Cleary plans to revamp School of Public Health

Less than a month after taking the job, Paul Cleary, the incoming dean of the Yale School of Public Health, is already planning ways to further the school’s mission and to improve collaborations with the School of Medicine and the University as a whole.

Cleary, who will move to New Haven in early July from his current position as a professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School, has been holding meetings with different constituencies within the School of Public Health over the past month and said most of his plans will not become firm until the still-ongoing meetings come to a close.

Those plans are already being put into motion, Cleary said, including a major renovation of facilities that he said will focus on the top floors of the nine-story main public health building on College Street, which dates back to 1964. The floors to be renovated are primarily laboratory spaces and have not yet been overhauled. Among the refurbished spaces will be labs in the Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases Division, improvements Cleary said will be an important selling point while recruiting for new professors in the division. The school is currently advertising on its Web site for six faculty positions across its eight divisions.

Though he said he was hesitant to single out a division or faculty of particularly strong interest, Cleary said one area of focus will be genetics.

“I’ve talked with people at the Medical School, and there are a lot of opportunities for collaborations there,” Cleary said. “In Yale more broadly, there’s quite an interest in genetics.”

A major recruiting effort in genetics is likely, Cleary said. He plans to meet with Richard Lifton — chair of the Genetics Department at the School of Medicine — next week, he said, and also plans to meet with other leading Yale genetics researchers.

Theodore Holford, the head of the Biostatistics Division, said Cleary’s focus on genetics will be “extremely important.”

“The work in genetics and genomics will be critical in understanding disease risk and in turn for public health planning,” Holford said.

Not all of Cleary’s plans are new. The emphasis on genetics dates back to before his selection as dean, and Holford said a program emphasizing cost-benefit analysis that will integrate several divisions has been part of the Medical School’s strategic plan for a year. Holford said the program, which he said has Cleary’s support, will lie at the intersection of biostatistics, health economics and clinical epidemiology, a blend of Public Health and Medical School divisions.

Collaborations between School of Medicine and Public Health researchers are not new, but Holford said having a permanent dean of public health will allow faculty to make connections easier and faster with similar collaborative units, which will be particularly important, he said, for young faculty members in the early stages of their careers.

Professor Mark Schlesinger, the director of undergraduate studies for the School of Public Health, who has known Cleary for 25 years, said efforts to increase joint research will be beneficial, but the success of such projects will depend on factors outside Cleary’s control.

“More collaboration is always good,” he said. “The specific potential for doing that will largely involve the School of Public Health and the Medical School really connecting more with some of the strengths in the School of Public Health.”

More generally, Cleary said he will examine where the school’s strengths already lie, especially in a national context and within the entire School of Medicine.

Cleary’s meetings have included one-on-one telephone conversations and individual and group meetings in New Haven, one day a week every week since his appointment was announced. Participants have included School of Public Health faculty and staff, as well as counterparts in the broader School of Medicine, of which the School of Public Health is a department. Absent so far among the contributors have been student groups, an absence that Clearly attributed to scheduling difficulties. He has met with student representatives, though, and said he plans to hold a general meeting with students in the fall.

Comments