Paul Cleary, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, has been named dean of the Yale School of Public Health and chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine, Yale President Richard Levin and School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern announced Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement brings to a close a search that lasted 13 months and included nearly 150 candidates. Cleary ultimately emerged as the top candidate, search committee chairwoman and professor of medicine Mary Tinetti said. Though Cleary will not relocate to New Haven until the summer, no major decisions at the School of Public Health will be made without his approval, Alpern said.

An expert in patient evaluations of health care, Cleary was widely hailed among his Harvard colleagues as an outstanding mentor, investigator and individual.

“It’s a great loss for Harvard and a great gain for Yale,” said Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “I came to Harvard in part because of him. He’s a wonderful guy and a great scientist.”

Focusing on health behavior and health care quality, Cleary has studied smoking, HIV and methods of measuring patient reports of their care. He was a founding member and former vice president of research at the Picker Institute, which studies patient assessments of their treatment and advocates for patient-centered care.

Cleary has been at Harvard since 1982 and became professor of health care policy in the departments of health care policy and social medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1993. He earned his doctorate in sociology in 1980 from the University of Wisconsin after receiving a master’s in sociology and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the same institution.

Cleary’s background in health services research has included positions on the editorial boards of seven different journals, including nine years as editor of the Milbank Quarterly, a top health policy journal.

In 1997, he received the A. Clifford Barger Excellence in Mentoring Award from Harvard Medical School. But Cleary’s colleagues said his impact goes far beyond Harvard students and his fellow faculty.

Kessler said Cleary was instrumental in creating an infrastructure for others to conduct further research into patient assessments of care.

“He’s certainly considered one of the leaders in patient reports and the role of patients in the evaluation of the healthcare system,” said Dr. Barbara McNeil, head of the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Cleary is already making an impression at Yale, some Yale public health faculty said. Dr. Robert Dubrow, associate clinical professor of epidemiology and public health, said the faculty has been supportive of Cleary’s selection as dean.

The search for a new dean began when Dr. Michael Merson stepped down from the post in January 2005, leaving a vacancy that was filled in the interim by Brian Leaderer, then vice dean of the school. A search committee of 10 faculty members from the schools of Medicine and Public Health and Yale College considered almost 150 candidates, Tinetti said.

Though the search lasted 13 months, Tinetti said it was not a long search by medical school standards, citing the still ongoing search for a chairman of the department of internal medicine that began before the public health one.

It was only in late fall that the committee began to consider options, she said, and 20 names came out from the pack as serious candidates, about half of whom expressed interest in the position. Three to four finalists were invited to Yale, and two were offered a second trip to New Haven. The search committee made its recommendation about a month ago, with the final decision to come from Alpern.

Alpern said he made his decision within the last month after reviewing Cleary’s plan for the School and the resources needed to carry it out.