For a woman who says she left school without a career plan, Rhona Baillie has an impressive curriculum vitae.

The chief executive officer of the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow has redesigned health care models, reduced waiting times for cancer patients and been commended in the Scottish Parliament.

She is now responsible for the 150 staff, 550 volunteers and 1200 patients and families who populate the hospice, soon to move from its present home on the banks of the Clyde to a new site in Bellahouston Park.

So what changed?

“I became driven,” she explains. “I became passionate - about cancer care, about the patients and the families, and about making a difference.”

Interestingly, Rhona believes the highest point of her career – becoming CEO at the hospice – is also one of the most bittersweet.

“It’s the moment I finally admitted to myself I would no longer be a hands-on nurse,” she says, simply. “And that was hard, because I will always be a nurse in my heart.”

It was not always the case – at 17, Rhona left school in her home town of East Kilbride and joined the Bank of Scotland but disliked it so much she left to work in a chip shop.

“The bank wasn’t for me,” she says, pursing her lips. “I manage a budget now, of course, but put a spreadsheet in front of me and it doesn’t inspire me.

“I had a Saturday job at Victor’s chippy in the town centre, so I just went to work there full-time. My parents were beyond furious.”

Two years of happy employment later – “I loved that job, it was just so much fun” – she told her parents she had decided to become a nurse.

“My mum said I could never do it because I would have to run after people,” smiles Rhona. “I was a really untidy teenager.

“But I started my training at the Victoria Infirmary, on the south side of Glasgow, and became a staff nurse. And that was the start of it all.”

Rhona gets her ‘groundedness’, she believes, from her parents. Her father was a planning engineer for Rolls-Royce, her mother was a housewife.

“I had a happy childhood,” she recalls. “My parents had fostered two boys because they didn’t think they could have children, and then, when my brothers were seven and 10, I came along, out of the blue.

“I’m often asked where my determination comes from and I know it comes from my childhood. People used to say – oh, but David and Leslie aren’t your real brothers.”

She adds, lightly: “And I would say – oh yes, they are. I’d stick up for them. We’re still close, I talk to them every day.”

In the early 90s, Rhona, now married to Jim and with a five-month-old baby daughter, left the Victoria Infirmary to live and work in Canada for a year.

“My brother was there, and I think we might have gone the whole hog and resettled there but when Robyn came along, we wanted to be closer to our families,” she explains.

“It was in Canada, though, that I found my love for cancer care and palliative nursing. This was where I felt I could make a real difference, which sounds a bit cheesy but I always thought – I might not be able to change the outcome for people, but I can make their journey a bit better.

“It’s not bleak, or sad – it’s a wonderful job and I used to leave people’s homes thinking that I had actually done some good.”

She pauses. “That’s what I miss the most.”

While working as an overnight nurse, caring for people in their own homes, Rhona went back into education, completing a postgraduate degree in cancer nursing at Glasgow University, and a BSc in community health with a diploma in district nursing from Glasgow Caledonian University.

“It was a lot of juggling,” she nods. “Robyn was three and I now had a one-year-old too – my son Fraser – and Jim was away a lot, working as an electrician.

“My mother was a huge support at this time – I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Family remains at the centre of Rhona’s world. She and Jim celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year, and her ideal day off – which are admittedly few and far between at the moment - involves walking her cocker spaniel, Oli, catching up with Robyn and Fraser, who are now in their 20s, and relaxing over dinner and a glass of red wine with friends at home.

In work, she is the ‘have-a-go CEO’, unafraid to lead by example, whether that means dancing the samba in front of 650 people at the hospice’s annual ‘A Little Less Strictly’ gala night, or welly-walking in the rain, or happily jumping into ice-buckets and foam-baths if it will raise the profile of – and plenty of money for - the hospice.

“Oh, I don’t take myself too seriously,” she says, airily. “It’s never a good idea. There is, of course, a very serious job to do here but on the fundraising side, it has to be fun.”

She grins: “And I’d never ask my team to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

Rhona has worked for the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice for 10 years, firstly as director of clinical services and latterly as CEO, but she recalls two moments of her early career which brought her fleetingly into contact with the place she would one day manage.

“I was turned down for a job here because I didn’t have enough community experience,” she smiles. “It was because of that I got my district nursing diploma. Then I worked as a district nurse in the east end of Glasgow for a year and it was a wonderful job which taught me a great deal.”

The second relates to Dr Anne Gilmore, the much-loved and respected Glasgow GP who set up the hospice in 1980.

Dr Gilmore, a former Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year, studied medicine at Glasgow University and pursued a career in geriatrics, becoming a consultant to the World Health Organisation and president of the British Society of Gerontology.

After seeing caring methods used in other countries to look after the terminally ill, she wanted to introduce a modern hospice for the people of Glasgow and thanks to her tireless efforts, the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice was born. Dr Gilmore died of cancer in 1998.

“I nursed Anne Gilmore when she was terminally ill,” says Rhona. “She lived across the road and I was part of the evening team, we called it, when I was district nursing. I didn’t realise who she was until I came in here and saw her photograph on the walls. She was remarkable, she had a passion.”

After two years at St Andrew’s Hospice in Airdrie, where she set up a home care team, Rhona took up the first of two project management posts at Lanarkshire Health Board. Identifying a gap in the provision of care in the community, she campaigned for funding and set up an overnight palliative nursing team, to help those patients who wished to die at home.

The project received a special commendation in the Scottish Parliament.

On secondment to the Scottish Executive Centre for Change and Innovation, Rhona tackled waiting times for cancer patients, successfully reducing the time between first GP appointment and first treatment from, in some cases, several months, to one day.

“That built my backbone,” she says. “It was terrible at times. I followed the patient’s journey, and it was eye-opening.”

Rhona pauses. “The patient is at the centre of it all, that’s what continues to drive me. The team here is the best I’ve ever worked with. The difference we can make is what drives us all.”

Rhona talks a lot about drive, and it is this which has propelled her through the ambitious and at times daunting £21m rebuild project which will see the hospice move to a new, purpose-built site in Bellahouston Park in 2018.

“It is so close now, it’s fantastic,” she beams. “Many, many people told us it was the wrong time to do it. It was 2008, the financial climate was terrible. But we had carried out a review, called Visions and Values, which told me that the environment was wrong. It was cramped, it wasn't suitable for young people. It was just wrong.

“We had no choice – we had to do it.

“Were we slightly naïve about just how challenging it would be? Absolutely. We don’t do fear here, it just cripples you. But there have been wobbles, although I try not to show them. We have had such support, from Glasgow City Council, from our wonderful board, and from the people of Glasgow, who show us such warmth."

Rhona adds: "It's the most challenging thing I have ever done. But I never, ever thought we wouldn’t achieve it.”