Paul D. Cleary, Ph.D., an expert on how people interact with systems that provide health care, has been named dean of public health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. Cleary has served since 1993 as professor of medical sociology in the Departments of Health Care Policy and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Paul join the School of Medicine and are excited by his vision and commitment,” Yale President Richard C. Levin, Ph.D., and Dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine Robert J. Alpern, M.D., said in a joint statement announcing Cleary’s appointment in March.

Cleary graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1970 with an undergraduate degree in physics. However, advanced studies in physics seemed too abstract during a time of social ferment inspired by the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, he says.

After taking time off from school to play in blues and rock bands, Cleary chose to study medical sociology, also at Wisconsin.

In 1982 Cleary joined the faculty at Harvard as professor of health care policy. His work has sought better ways to find out how patients view their care and has studied what determines variations in the quality of health care. He has traveled the world to study behavioral aspects of HIV/AIDS, smoking, alcohol abuse and mental illness. “The things I have focused on are health behavior, analytic methods, social epidemiology, statistical modeling, health policy and behavioral science,” Cleary says.

Cleary begins his work at the School of Medicine in July, succeeding Michael H. Merson, M.D., the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health, who stepped down as dean in 2005 after 10 years in the post, and Interim Dean Brian P. Leaderer, M.P.H., Ph.D., the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology.

Cleary believes that faculty members have their own vision guiding their research. “My philosophy of organization,” he says, “is that I should make it easier for the faculty to do their job better. What can I do as a leader of the organization to enable them to realize that vision?”

Nonetheless, Cleary, a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, strongly favors collaborative research. “Let’s say you have two people, three people, four people who want to focus on cancer research. They may reinforce each other. You may be able to get more support for certain programs. You may be more likely to have an impact. Young assistant professors who want to work in that area will have mentors,” Cleary says. “I feel very strongly about developing research programmatically, fostering multidisciplinary collaborations and developing excellence in focused areas.”

In announcing the appointment, Levin praised Cleary’s background in quantitative methodology and analysis. “I know that many of you, as I do, look forward to working with him in the years ahead,” Levin told a gathering of public health faculty in the Winslow Auditorium. “You will find that he can be a sympathetic listener, someone who can pay attention to people and at the same time be capable of independent thinking and leadership.”