After two decades of caring for critically ill patients, Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH is a strong advocate for a new approach to caring for the dying. She practices the unusual combination of ICU and palliative care medicine at Highland Hospital, the county hospital in Oakland, California. Having herself participated in the default and indiscriminate use of technology on dying patients, with its resultant suffering, Dr. Zitter has come to view this situation as a public health crisis. She is committed to reorienting our care of the dying to a more collaborative process whereby the patient, rather than her organ or disease, is the primary focus of care.

Dr. Zitter’s first book, Extreme Measures: Finding A Better Path to the End of Life, (Penguin, 2017), offers an insider’s view of intensive care in America and its impact on how we die. Her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Time Magazine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and other publications.

Her work is featured in the 2017 Oscar- and Emmy-nominated short-documentary “Extremis,” now streaming on Netflix. This vérité film follows Jessica, her team and several patients and their families in the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital.  She has also been featured on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, “The Doctors,” “Doctor Oz,” CBS Sunday Morning, and others.

Dr. Zitter attended Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University Medical School and earned her Master of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her medical training includes an Internal Medicine residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a fellowship in Pulmonary/Critical Care at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2005 she co-founded Vital Decisions, a telephone counseling service for patients with life-limiting illnesses.

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Extremis + A New Kind of Heroism

Dr Jessica Zitter

Participants are invited to take a front row seat and join Dr. Zitter and her team in “Extremis,” an Academy Award-nominated short documentary by filmmaker Dan Krauss. Participants are taken into the very heart of the ICU, the front line of the public health crisis that touches everyone: the default use of technology on the dying, with its consequent suffering. They watch as patients and families grapple with the complexities of urgent medical decision-making in serious illness. And they will witness both the beauty of saving life and the beauty of a good death.

Immediately following the film, Dr. Zitter will present “A New Kind of Heroism.” Filled with rich personal narrative, she exposes the public health crisis from an insider’s perspective, taking you on the journey of her lifelong love affair with medicine: from an early desire to be a “hero” like her father and grandfather, to a new understanding of what it takes to provide patient-centered care at the end of life. She describes what she calls the “end-of-life conveyor belt,” in which mechanization and protocol override personal preference and collaborative decision-making. A better path is out there, but it will require a new kind of heroism from everyone involved.

Dr. Zitter challenges and invites everyone—as patients, physicians, families, and healthcare professionals—to take a step back, take a deep breath, and enquire: what do you really want for yourselves, your loved ones, and those entrusted in your care when death comes?

*The film has also won top honors at the Tribeca and San Francisco Film Festivals and is the first short original documentary to be acquired by Netflix.

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