Jill Koss: 2023 Distinguished Service Award Recipient

Pic with Neely

By: Katie Campbell, CCLS
Cook Childrens

How does one exactly capture the essence, impact, and legacy of Jill Koss? Jill has provided many years of remarkable service to the field of child life, not only as a child life specialist, but as a leader, an encourager, and a dreamer.  Jill began her career in child life at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in 1990.  She arrived in Texas and began her career at Cook Children’s in 1991.  Jill joined a team that was growing and beginning to establish itself within the medical center.  In those early years, Jill was a natural leader and was constantly working hard to meet the needs of patients and families throughout the hospital.  “Even before assuming a leadership role in the department, Jill was respected as a visionary and a leader.  Her strong patient and family-centered values, abiding professionalism, and work ethic have resulted in her steadily assuming greater responsibility, expanded leadership roles, and unquestionable impact on the quality of care across a growing health system. From her days as a young child life specialist, to her current role overseeing multiple services and programs, Jill has embodied excellence in our profession, always staying true to the mission of child life, to do everything in her power to positively influence each child’s and family’s healthcare experience.” says Chris Brown, former Child Life at Cook Children’s.   Jill was an early leader of the self-directed work teams that led the child life department and by 1999, she was named a clinical coordinator for the department.  In 2003, Jill became Director of Child Life and by 2006, was named Director of Family Support Services where she continues to serve today.

While brainstorming and trying to capture who Jill Koss is and what she means to the Child Life Department at Cook Children’s and to the field of Child Life, the analogy of a tree resonated. Being from the south, surely she is a strong, established oak tree! Jill has spent the length of her career growing and establishing roots at Cook Children’s.  Under her leadership, the child life department has grown from a handful of child life specialists to over 80 staff.  Jill has advocated for and pioneered programs such as the Creative Artist in Residence Program, the Sit…Stay…PLAY Facility Dog Program, and the Camps For Kids Program, which is a collection of camps for children with chronic health conditions. Additionally, Jill has been creative in developing programs through our partnership with Teammates for Kids and Child Life Zones.  All in all, Jill leads child life specialists, activity coordinators, an artist in residence, music therapists, dog handlers, music and television producers, therapeutic clowns, volunteer coordinators, teachers, child life educators, and many more.  Jill has also been a champion for programs and has raised awareness on ideas that impact children all across the hospital system. She has led programming and initiatives for patient- and family-centered care, psychosocial practice, emotional safety, helped establish a system wide pain management program called The Comfort Menu, and has led the way in a sibling center that will open in Spring of 2023 for brothers and sisters of patients coming to the outpatient clinics.  Jill has made it her mission to transform the interior of Cook Children’s Medical Center.  Changing the grey walls of Cook Children’s into a more child friendly atmosphere with soothing colors and whimsical artwork has been led and entirely hand selected by Jill herself.  These programs and opportunities are true culture changes that have impacted the whole healthcare system. “Jill is a strong and motivated leader that provides clear direction and vision for her teams.  The latest example of this is her work in emotional harm and pulling together cross-functional teams, as well as child life, to elevate emotional harm as a priority as much as zero physical harm has been in healthcare.  She believes deeply in this movement and is leveraging best practices to create a roadmap that changes the way we think about care for our families.” says Megan Chavez, Cook Children’s Health Care System’s Vice President of Patient and Family Experience.

While Jill was busy growing deep sustainable roots at Cook Children’s, she also began to “branch” out and engage in work outside of the hospital walls that was still making a deep impact for children.  Jill facilitated programming and education to support children in Honduras, Romania, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lampur. Jill gave of her time to care for children in orphanages, provide play opportunities for hospitalized children, and to teach professionals who share a passionate vision of caring for and advocating for children.  Because of these educational partnerships, child life specialists in each these countries are providing psychosocial education to medical professionals and psychosocial support to patients and their families.  Raelene Sortiau believes “Her dedication and contribution to our program, our people, and our community are invaluable. Jill’s personal investment in our students, faculty, and myself are priceless. She opened doors for us in Romania through her integrity and vision for our program that would further the child life principles and practice in a part of the world that had never experienced anything like it before.”

Jill also began finding ways to engage on a deeper level with the ACLP. Jill’s lengthy years of service includes her participation on multiple committees. Sharing of her voice and perspective led to her joining the ACLP board as a member-at-large, and most recently, serving as President.  She continues her work with the ACLP today as an advocate for diversity and equity training and as a member of the Governance Committee.  Jill believes in the power of a child life specialist’s ability to make a difference, and she works tirelessly to ensure that child life specialists are empowered and impactful wherever they work.

As someone who has grown up under the shade of Jill’s giant oak tree, I have benefited from her leadership. I have learned what it means to truly be present with a patient and family and ride the roller coaster of cancer treatment with them.  I have found my voice and ability to advocate for a perspective that some have yet to consider. I have developed a love for camping and will never underestimate the power that camp can have on a patient’s life for a lifetime.   I have learned to be reflective around my actions, celebrate small wins, and to continue to refine and develop my skill set.  I have heard Jill’s voice cheering me on, believing in me, and challenging me to take a step I had yet to consider.  I have grown from our “rumbles” and have truly learned to respect and hear both sides of an issue.  I also realize I am one of so many that has benefited from Jill’s shade tree.  Her ability to encourage, trust, and develop those around her speaks volumes to her leadership.

I believe the Child Life Department at Cook Children’s, children around the world, and the ACLP are better because of Jill’s ability to believe and see what is possible.  She has the ability to dream and understand what a tiny acorn could become.  Jill’s ability to be persistent and remain resilient even when she has met resistance or has been told “no,” has taught others around her to also be persistent. Jill is absolutely a leader, a champion, an advocate, an encourager, an empowerer, and someone who has led a career full of distinguished service and is still going.  Thank you, Jill Koss our Boss!  Thank you for making us better.