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The University of Kentucky College of Public Health (CPH) is celebrating Women's History Month with spotlights on remarkable faculty, students, and alumni throughout the month.

Dr. Julia Costich, a distinguished faculty member holding the Peter P. Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research title at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Public Health (CPH), has shown resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to breaking barriers throughout her career.

Early Influences and Career Beginnings

Born and raised in Lexington, Dr. Costich inherited a passion for learning from her father, a geography professor at UK. Her father also served as a naval officer during World War II, stationed in Western Australia, where he met Dr. Costich’s mother. Dr. Costich lived in Perth for three of her elementary school years.

With aspirations to become a French teacher, Dr. Costich completed a PhD in French at UK in 1973 and joined the faculty in the French department. However, her journey took an unforeseen turn when the university dropped its foreign language requirement, resulting in faculty cuts, including her position. 

“I diligently did everything you’re supposed to do as a junior faculty member,” said Dr. Costich. “And at that point we were also expecting our older child, so it seemed like the universe was telling me something. Ultimately, I went back to school.”  

Navigating Unforeseen Turns

Dr. Costich earned a master's degree at UK in Public Policy and Administration, with the goal of transitioning into health care management.

"While my children were in their early years, my husband was very busy with his pediatric practice so I appreciated the flexibility of administration in my schedule for managing carpool and other parental responsibilities,” said Dr. Costich. “However, after several years with increasing responsibility, I began to feel as if I were ‘practicing law without a license,’ engaging in various contracting and legalistic tasks. That realization prompted me to contemplate going back to school yet again." 

With this realization, she found the courage to transition to law. Her husband stepped into an administrative role so he would have time to do more with their children while she was in school.

Mentorship has been important in Dr. Costich’s varied roles. “In the early stages of my career in academia, when women were still underrepresented, I found invaluable support from a female mentor in the French department,” she said. “Despite the predominantly male makeup of the law school faculty when I was a student, Louise Graham, who was an expert in family law, provided me with encouragement that left a lasting impact.”  

Dr. Costich graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law with honors in 1993, and her experience led her to practicing health care law with a downtown Lexington firm.  

She was then recruited for a position with the state of Kentucky, ultimately becoming the executive director of the Kentucky Health Purchasing Alliance, responsible for coordinating health insurance coverage for state and school system employees with coverage for several other groups, including the University of Louisville, many municipal entities, and 41,000 individuals. This enterprise was initially designed to align with the Clinton-era health reform initiative, which never materialized, leading to its dissolution. 

Return to Academia: Leadership Roles and Unforeseen Opportunities

By this time, Dr. Costich’s colleagues were forming the nucleus of UK’s nascent College of Public Health.  She was recruited for the program in 1998 due to her familiarity with the team and her extensive experience in health policy. 

“I returned to the university with wholehearted dedication, immersing myself in numerous projects that demanded attention. As a result, I assumed the role of a research title faculty member," Dr. Costich shared. 

Just two weeks before the 2002 fall semester began, she received an unexpected call from the Office of the Dean of Health Sciences, searching for someone to teach the undergraduate law course. Taking on this opportunity, Dr. Costich continued to teach undergraduate courses until the inception of CPH’s MPH program.  

Dr. Costich went on to serve as the chair of what was then the Department of Health Services Management. In 2016–2017, she took on the role of interim co-chair for the renamed Department of Health Management and Policy, a role she again holds at present.

Dr. Costich draws inspiration from her background as a classically trained musician to describe her leadership style as department chair.

“The chair is not the person in the fancy tie and tails up there on the podium,” she said. “The department chair is like the leader of a chamber music ensemble; if the leader has a good enough grasp of what's going on in the moment with the rest of the ensemble, they can take a deep breath and go forward. Everybody has their own thing to do. All you really do is provide the framework in which people can excel.”

In 2022, Dr. Costich found herself unexpectedly taking on a leadership role as the hearing officer for UK’s University Appeals Board. This board oversees appeals arising from actions of the university’s Academic Ombud Services and decisions made by the Code of Student Conduct Board.  Dr. Costich's service reflects her commitment to providing students with a fair and empowering platform. 

Focusing on injury policy at KIPRC

In addition to her other duties at the time, Dr. Costich served as the director of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) from 2003 to 2010, playing a pivotal role in shaping the center’s focus on injury policy issues. 

In a pivotal transition, Dr. Costich recounted, “Eventually, it was time for KIPRC to have a dedicated injury scientist as the director.” Dr. Terry Bunn assumed the directorship, and Dr. Costich became the Associate Director from 2010 until September 2023. This period marked a lengthy and impactful chapter in her distinguished career. Dr. Costich emphasized how her work today is a testament to the influence of her time at KIPRC, stating, "My ongoing work continues to address related issues." 

Life Lessons

At 74, Dr. Costich is the oldest active faculty member in the College of Public Health. Having raised two children and now caring for her 102-year-old mother while navigating a long and impressive career, Dr. Costich embodies adaptability. Her husband, now retired, continues to support her by taking care of household needs.

“Finding something you’re truly passionate about is critical, and if it comes with opportunities for career growth, that’s fantastic,” she said. “However, if things don't go as planned; as with my shift from being a French professor, it’s not the end of the world. More often than not, it’s not about you; it’s about the alignment of external factors. Flexibility is crucial, openness to unexpected opportunities is a valuable mindset.”