For Newton's Koontz, health and community go hand-in-hand

Melanie Zuercher
Special to the Kansan

Editor's note: This is the second of three stories highlighting 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award winners from Bethel College. Coming up in the series is a profile Joel Gaeddert of North Newton. 

Jennifer Scott Koontz, M.D., MPH, has always had a heart for the community, which the past 18 months of pandemic have only emphasized.

Jennifer Scott Koontz, of Newton, will receive Bethel College’s 2021 Outstanding Alumnus Award, which is given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

Koontz, of Newton, will receive Bethel College’s 2021 Outstanding Alumnus Award, which is given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

She will receive the award at the Alumni Banquet, which has been moved to Fall Festival and will be held Oct. 3.

Except for briefly considering a missionary career as a first grader, Koontz has always wanted to be a doctor.

She volunteered at a nursing home as a high school student in Nickerson, Kan., and graduated from Bethel in 1998 with majors in psychology and natural sciences.

Right after graduation, Koontz spent two years with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Hamilton, Ontario. At the North Hamilton Community Health Centre, she coordinated the breakfast program for school children and worked as a camp counselor for adults and children living with HIV.

She then began her education at the University of Kansas, where she earned a master’s degree in public health (2001) and her M.D. (2005).

While at KU Medical School, Koontz founded and led the JayDoc Free Clinic, a student-run clinic for the uninsured in Kansas City, Kan., in 2003, and two years later co-founded the JayDoc Community Clinic in Wichita.

She completed a residency in family medicine at Via Christi in Wichita, where she was chief resident during her last year. By 2009, she was board certified in both family medicine and sports medicine, and began practicing with Pinnacle Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics, Newton and Hutchinson, Kan.

She has also served as team physician and medical director for athletic training and student health at Bethel since that time.

It isn’t by accident that Koontz has been able to combine medicine and sports, since she loves both and was captain of the volleyball and women’s basketball teams as a Bethel student.

Sports medicine, she says, covers whatever helps people stay healthy and lead an active lifestyle – it can include treating anything from an injured shoulder to asthma to chronic knee pain to depression.

Since 2012, Koontz has practiced family medicine and sports medicine, and served as medical director for cardiac rehabilitation, at Newton Medical Center, recently renamed NMC Health.

Koontz was Bethel’s Young Alumnus Award winner in 2009. In 2017, she was one of three Women of the Year in Harvey County.

At that time, she told The Newton Kansan, “[Getting the MPH] expanded my view of what health means. I know it’s not just a one-on-one visit in the exam room with me. Health is community work and I think health is about being connected with others in the community.”

Koontz currently serves in a number of leadership positions, including president of the Harvey County Medical Society, member of the Kansas Healthcare Collaborative board of directors, and chair of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Sexual Violence Task Force, among others.

But it has been her work to educate the public about COVID-19 and public health and safety measures surrounding it that have pointed out her dedication to community most clearly.

For months, she read everything she could find, and then distilled it into COVID-19 updates covering Harvey County to the global situation, which she put on her Facebook page and made shareable to anyone.

“I am a fierce believer that facts and education are important to address any challenge,” she said. “Facts help us understand how to protect our communities and can keep us calm in times of great uncertainty.”

As president of the Harvey County Medical Society, Koontz coordinated a group of physicians that gave input into the county’s re-opening and testing plans, advocated for adequate testing and contact tracing programs, and tirelessly promoted frequent handwashing, physical distancing and wearing face coverings in public spaces.

In the early months of the pandemic, when face masks for the general public were in short supply, Koontz organized a group of volunteers to sew masks and distribute them through the schools and other avenues.

Her efforts earned her an “Ad Astra Star Award” from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas, a recognition created to particularly note those “embodying the strength and resilience of Kansas” at this time.

When Koontz was nominated as a Harvey County Woman of the Year in 2017, the nominator called her a “servant leader.”

The award was “a nice recognition from the community, but it mostly serves as a reminder for me to continue to be community-minded and continue to be a servant leader,” Koontz said. “It’s just a great reinforcement to continue to serve the community.”

Koontz lives in Newton with her husband, Matt Koontz ’98, and their three children.