Deborah Ross: My Working Life

Published on: 31 Oct 2023

My Working Life - Andy Collen


What did you want to be when you were at school? 

I always loved languages at school, and I wanted to become a translator/interpreter. 

Why did you change your mind?

When I left school, I began a degree in business with languages, but quickly realised it wasn’t where I was meant to be. I did some voluntary work experience in a local hospital where my Auntie Debbie worked.

I loved spending time with the patients and seeing how the nurses expertly cared for them. Every patient on the ward felt safe, respected and loved, and the incredible nurses and nursing assistants made it look effortless. I was in awe and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. So, I applied to do a nursing degree and here we are, 20 odd years down the line! I’ve never looked back.   


What 3 factors make you skip into work? (What do you enjoy most about your current role?)

1. Unlike most nursing roles, I work from home. This enables a great work/life balance. I get to spend time with my daughter and drop her off at nursery every day. 

2. I love being able to work with an amazing team of knowledgeable and supportive nurses and editors. They really are the best at what they do. I learn something new every day. 

3. I love researching and developing accessible health information for a diverse audience. I feel very proud that we provide the information they need, in the way that they need it, to help them to understand their diagnosis and treatment. Educating and empowering people allows them to take back some control over their situation. As a nurse, I feel privileged to be able to give that gift to the people in our care.   


3. What are the main 3 factors that make you frustrated at work? 

Before I joined the team, I hadn’t appreciated what a long and thorough process health information development was. I was used to working in a fast-paced, high demand environment. It came as a shock to me when I realised how many people were involved in creating our content and the careful quality checks involved to make sure it’s accurate, timely and accessible.

At first, I felt frustrated because things seemed to take so long to get into print or online. Now I understand how necessary these checks are and that people’s safety and wellbeing depend on it. 

Other more practical things can be frustrating, such as dodgy internet connections or IT not working properly. I’m sure that’s the same across the board, no matter which profession you’re in!  


How would you recommend your career to a young person? 

Nursing is such an incredibly diverse profession with limitless career pathways. My previous roles have been as a ward nurse in three very different clinical areas – medical, surgical and spinal rehabilitation; a community staff nurse; a district nursing charge nurse and non-medical prescriber; a cancer information nurse specialist, providing support via telephone, email, web chat and online forums.

And now I’m a content development nurse. There are so many specialisms that require specific skill sets that only a diverse pool of nurses can provide.

What has been your biggest career disappointment or challenge?

During my time as a district nurse, I felt restricted by a lack of time and resources. Over-stretched services, unrealistic expectations of nursing staff and an unrelenting and ever-increasing caseload meant it became more challenging to spend quality time with each patient.

I never felt I could give my best, even though I worked late every night to get everything done. I loved working with the patients and the nursing team was exceptional. But I became burnt out. Work/life balance was poor and I needed to find a way to love my job again. 


How did you overcome it?

I joined Macmillan as a cancer information nurse on the support line and it was a revelation. Suddenly, I could give each person my undivided attention for as long as they needed me without having to worry about managing a team or getting to the next patient.

Time is a precious gift not afforded to many healthcare professionals these days. I found it incredibly satisfying. I loved hearing people’s stories and being able to make them feel supported, informed and important. It felt wonderful.


What has been your biggest career surprise?

Becoming a content development nurse. Before joining Macmillan, I didn’t even know that was an option! 


What was your best career move?

Moving from the NHS to the charity sector. It changed my work/life balance completely and allowed me to develop advanced communication skills and clinical knowledge of cancer and its treatments. I love the NHS, but the charity sector is where I’ve felt most supported. 


Can you describe your work/what you do in 1 sentence?

I research clinical and non-clinical topics related to cancer and its treatments, and write patient information resources in different formats for a diverse audience with varying information and communication needs. 


What qualities do you think you need to do your job well?

Passion; good communication skills; attention to detail; a good team-working ethos; the ability to listen and pay attention to address the needs of our audience; good organisational skills; and good time management. 


What 3 words would your colleagues use to describe you?

Eager to learn.


What is the best advice you have ever got from a patient or work colleague? 

A patient once told me that the secret to a happy and successful life is to be grateful for every mistake or unhappy event, as well as the positive experiences.

Although things may seem awful at the time, there is always something to be learned from it. Use what you’ve learned to boost yourself up and become the best version of yourself.  She was a very wise lady and I have never forgotten her.   

If you could go back in time and give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be? 

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into thinking there’s only one way to be a nurse. Nothing is mapped out for you. There is a world of professional development opportunity out there and everyone deserves a chance to find their niche.


What do you do to relax?

Chill out at home with my husband and my wee girl. There may be Disney movies and pizza involved. 

What would be your key advice to fellow nurses? 

Dedication, kindness and being a voice for those who struggle to be heard are essential qualities of a good nurse. But it’s not about giving every part of yourself to care for your patients until you drop. No job, even a vocational one, is worth that sacrifice.

It’s about finding your passion, learning where your unique skills lie and using them to improve patient outcomes. And if you go home feeling satisfied at the end of the day, knowing that you are making a real difference, you’re in the right place.  


Is the thought of retirement a dream or a nightmare?

DREAM. The idea of being able to fill my days with fun and interesting things and spending time with the people I love keeps me going. Only 25 years to go! 

Do you have a morning routine - something you always start your working day doing? 

A strong cup of tea is essential! 


Are you an extrovert or introvert? 

I’m an outgoing introvert. I do feel anxious sometimes but I’m pretty good at hiding it. 


Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My family. My Mum is a retired additional support needs teacher. My Dad was a support worker for adults with learning disabilities. My husband is a patient, loving partner and daddy.

My sister is a dedicated social care professional. My Auntie Debbie is a retired nurse. My Gran was a home help for many years. And my Granda gave up work to be a full-time carer for my Gran when she became ill. Caring is in the genes! 


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I love lots of things and feel no guilt whatsoever about any of them. Cult movies, pineapple on pizza, a decent pint of Guinness, a day spent in my pyjamas. Life is for living, people! Enjoy the things you love. No time for negativity!



Deborah Ross studied adult nursing at Glasgow Caledonian University, graduating after the four year programme with a First Class BA(Hons) Nursing Studies in 2005. After registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in 2004, she worked as an agency nurse on a range of medical, surgical and spinal rehabilitation wards. 

After graduating, she took up her first full-time post as a staff nurse on a surgical receiving ward, at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow for 2 years. She became a community staff nurse in East Renfrewshire in 2007. She undertook specialist postgraduate training to become a district nurse, obtaining her PgD and Specialist Practitioner Qualification in 2016. In 2021, she completed further studies to achieve a MSc Nursing in Advancing Professional Practice. 

She became a district nursing charge nurse and non-medical prescriber in East Renfrewshire in 2016. A year later, she joined Macmillan Cancer Support as a cancer information nurse specialist in 2017, providing support via telephone, email, web chat and online forums. She now works as a cancer information development nurse for Macmillan Cancer Support.