Jill Koss Earns Distinguished Service Award: A Heart “as big as the State of Texas”
Part of the Values Series: Kindness
By Malinda Mason Miller, PRN
Hard work gets noticed at Cook Children’s, especially when it comes from the heart. But when an outside professional association takes note of one of our own, it’s extra special.
Jill Koss, MS, Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), Director of Family Support Services earned the 2023 Distinguished Service Award this week from the Association of Child Life Professionals. Jill will give her award acceptance speech this June in front of colleagues at the ACLP Child Life Conference, in recognition of her efforts to help Cook Children’s patients just be normal kids in the hospital.
The award, deemed by many in the field to be the pinnacle of a professional career, is an accolade topping Jill’s service to children in North Texas and around the world.
“Cook Children’s is so special because leadership recognizes the importance of our valuable service to children in the clinical setting,” Jill said. “When we have an idea for making that experience even better for kids, management tends to find ways to make it happen.”
When Jill’s co-workers think of the recognition she has received over the years, they immediately bring up the kind words offered by Garth Brooks regarding the Child Life Zone, a project supported by his foundation. Other projects under Jill’s mentorship around the world have garnered less limelight, but equally impacted children in need.
“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," Katie Campbell, CCLS and Child Life Manager at Cook Children’s, wrote in her nomination letter. "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.”
Anita Pumphrey, CCLS and Awards Chair for the Association of Child Life Professionals said, “Jill has led change internationally through her work in Romania, Honduras, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, training hospital staff on the psychosocial care of children and parental support. In addition to her international work, she also prioritizes her commitment to the profession through her involvement with the Association of Child Life Professionals. She has served in a variety of leadership positions, ultimately as president.”
Seeing the World through Your Eyes: Support for Patients, Siblings, Moms and Dads
According to Jill, there is more that goes into the patient experience than just exceptional clinical care – especially when the patient is a child. Being in the hospital can make it feel more difficult to do what kids do best: play.
That’s why the team of child life specialists at Cook Children’s is so important. It’s their top priority to make an uncomfortable situation less scary for children who are ill or injured, and their families.
“A child enters a hospital setting and the stakes are automatically high. It’s as serious as life and death, or the child likely would not be here,” said Megan Chavez, Vice President of Cook Children’s Experience.
Serving the whole patient means helping alleviate fear and anxiety, providing opportunities for laughter and play, offering distractions, and emotional support such as art therapy and facility dogs. These supports are critical. Child life specialists like Jill step up in creative ways to help hospitalized children – as well as their parents and siblings – feel less overwhelmed.
Child life specialists give kids tips and tools for procedures, such as having blood drawn or staying still during an MRI.
“Through the work of child life specialists, children can instantly be in a safe place,” Megan said. “Jill’s team is especially interested in how a child processes what’s happening in the hospital and actively finds ways to involve them in the success of their care.”
And success of care is important when it comes to quality outcomes, according to Joann Sanders, M.D., CHCQM, FAIHQ, chief quality officer.
“What sets Jill apart is that she has made Cook Children’s the premier place in the nation known for child life excellence,” Joann said. “And the way she does it is simple. She advocates for children. When she is in the patient’s room, she is the One Voice that matters to the child and to the care team.”
Everything for the Child: The Business Case for Patient and Family Support
Stan Davis, President of Cook Children’s Medical Center, said Jill keeps the well-being and support of patients and families at the center of her mission.
“Jill’s heart is as big as the state of Texas,” Stan said. “She combines a strong commitment to caring with her professional skills to create a welcoming and supportive environment for everyone.”
Evidence shows that play, and just generally being able to still have a childhood — even in the hospital setting — improve clinical care and outcomes. Clinical success goes hand-in-hand with the work of child life specialists. Mental and emotional well-being are deeply intertwined with physical healing.
There are other economic and business reasons to have programs like these for families and patients. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Statement of Child Life, children fare better after a surgery or procedure if they are psychologically prepared beforehand. They spend less time in recovery and get to go home sooner, reducing costs.
The work of a child life specialist goes beyond entertaining sick children … it’s about being there for young patients in their time of greatest need.
The ONE VOICE approach, a well-recognized tool implemented by Cook Children’s Health Care System that embraces several factors for the success of the patient experience, is comprised of the following acronym:
- One voice should be heard during the procedure.
- Need parental involvement.
- Educate patient before the procedure about what is going to happen.
- Validate child with words.
- Offer the most comfortable, non-threatening position.
- Individualize your game plan.
- Choose appropriate distraction to be used.
- Eliminate unnecessary people not actively involved with the procedure.
The art of distraction: Pain management and coping strategies
Examples of programs housed under the Child Life Services umbrella include:
- Child Life Zone – Fun recreation areas in the hospital are dedicated to giving children a much-needed break by recording music, playing or just having a space to hang out.
- Facility Dogs – Pet-assisted therapeutic support benefits patients, families and staff.
- Laughter League – A troupe of professional clowns are brought in to entertain patients and families, helping to reduce the stress of being in the hospital.
- Creative Arts Program – Music therapists and a resident artist use creative arts to give opportunity to express emotions.