Scholar of the Month

Meet Justin Blackburn


Justin Blackburn, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis. He is also the Health Policy Ph.D. Program Director and the Scientific Director Wellbeing Informed by Science and Evidence in Indiana (WISE Indiana), a research partnership between the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). He earned an MPH in epidemiology from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed articles, served on 27 dissertation research committees, and generated over $2 million in research funding.

In his free time, Dr. Blackburn enjoys spending time with his wife, children, and pets. Family time includes movie nights, trips to the beach, and cheering for the Kentucky Wildcats. 

For me, seeing the impact of the work is the most rewarding.

Dr. Justin Blackburn

Q and A with Dr. Justin Blackburn

I first took notice of Public Health as a discipline while an undergraduate biology major during the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. I was interested in understanding how timely data collection and analysis could track the spread of the disease and provide evidence for leaders to make decisions about how to respond. As a graduate student, I focused on understanding observational student designs and the ability to evaluate treatments, programs, and policies to make evidence-based decisions on a variety of topics.  

My research is focused on trying to gain a better understanding of the impact of health policies on the use of health care and on health-related outcomes, including costs. I am particularly interested in understanding who is vulnerable to negative effects of these policies or whether programs and polices benefit vulnerable groups. In this context, vulnerable populations include the presence of certain social determinants of health, being a racial/ethnic minority, level of income, physical or cognitive disability, and age including older adults or children.

Most of my work is done in close collaboration with decision-makers in the state government of Indiana to provide scientific evidence which can help guide decisions affecting the lives of Hoosiers and beyond. This allows me to apply rigorous methodology to address challenges as they arise. Although much of this work focuses on Indiana, there are broader implications to other states.

For me, seeing the impact of the work is the most rewarding. Because much of my work uses existing sources of data, I enjoy the challenge of applying rigorous methodological tools to solve unique problems and reduce the presence of bias.

I became the Ph.D. Program Director in Health Policy and Management because of my dedication to mentoring the next generation of health policy and health services researchers. I have served on nearly 30 dissertation committees and actively seek ways to involve my students in research and get them excited about the value of this kind of work.

In public health, there are always new challenges. For example, within my career I’ve provided scientific evidence on a variety of topics where little evidence existed before such as the COVID-19 pandemic, laws that expand or restrict access to healthcare services, measuring health disparities, access to mental and behavioral health care, and use of new technologies in health delivery or records. Over the next few years, given changes in the policies here in Indiana, I expect a large amount of my focus will be on the organization and delivery of mental and behavioral health care and long-term supports and services.

Conversation with Dr. Justin Blackburn

On Friday, March 22, 2024, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m., Dr. Justin Blackburn will talk about “The Economic Burden of Untreated Mental Illness in Indiana: Translating Evidence into Policy.”

Wellbeing Informed by Science and Evidence in Indiana (WISE Indiana)  is a partnership with the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute’s Monon Collaborative and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) to engage Indiana’s nationally-recognized academic experts to evaluate and inform Indiana practices, programs and policies.

During this conversation, Dr. Blackburn will provide an overview of the WISE Indiana partnership and highlight recent projects, including estimating the economic burden of untreated mental illness in Indiana. The WISE Indiana team determined that the value of untreated mental illness in Indiana is over $4 billion. Join us to learn more about this important research.