How Susan Yox, MS ‘78, BS ‘76, went from staff nurse to Medscape’s director of editorial content

UB SON alumna Susan Yox standing in front of greenery.

Susan Yox spent the bulk of her career – two decades, to be exact – working in web editorial content at Medscape, the division of WebMD for health care professionals.

But on her first day on the job, she hardly knew how to type. 

Figuring out the fundamentals

“As a young nurse, I certainly never dreamed of becoming a writer or editor. But I did learn a lot of writing skills in my UB undergraduate and graduate programs that have served me very well over the years."
Susan Yox, MS '78, BS '76

Flashing back to the ‘70s, Yox never imagined working in editorial content. Although she had a diploma in nursing from the former Genesee Hospital School of Nursing in Rochester, New York, and was working as a staff nurse at Sisters of Charity Hospital, she decided that she wanted to go back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree.

“I realized that I needed further education to have the career I envisioned,” she says. “I lived locally, worked at Sisters of Charity Hospital, was married and was soon to have my first child. So I looked to find a high-quality, affordable program with an easy commute. And that’s how I ended up at UB.” 

Yox graduated from UB SON with a bachelor’s degree of science in nursing in 1976 and then a master’s degree of science in nursing in 1978. She also spent two years at the school in the late ‘70s teaching fundamental nursing courses.

Then, in 1978, she left Sisters and began a career at Health Care Plan (now Univera), where she worked as a member services coordinator and was promoted to health education coordinator. She returned to UB a few years later to earn an EdD in health behavioral sciences in 1986, which she equates to a health education degree. 

“I decided to earn an EdD primarily because I wanted to continue to move forward in my career,” she says. “Once I started getting a graduate education, I found I did well and really enjoyed it. So I just kept going!”

When she first started the doctoral program, she thought she wanted to teach. But by the time she finished, she was more interested in health education. Shortly after completing her doctorate program, she switched routes and became the executive editor of a peer-reviewed journal, called HMO Practice, which was published by a consortium of US HMOs. 

“As a young nurse, I certainly never dreamed of becoming a writer or editor,” she says. “But I did learn a lot of writing skills in my UB undergraduate and graduate programs that have served me very well over the years. And having advanced degrees certainly helps to stand out to employers and potential employers.

"I held a variety of roles at Health Care Plan,” she adds. “The organization was brand new then – as were HMOs in general – and we all wore many hats. In each of these jobs, I was the first person to ever hold the position, so I got to develop the role. That has been a consistent theme throughout my career.”

Managing a new career at Medscape

When the journal was bought by another company, Yox left Health Care Plan. About a year later, she was looking for freelance work when she learned that Medscape – a site that was then primarily geared toward physicians – was recruiting a full-time role to start a site for nurses.

“I interviewed and was offered the position in 1999,” she says. “I didn’t know much about online work (no one really did then!) but I was eager to learn and the advanced education and the comfort I had in developing new roles was a real plus.”

At the time, Medscape had about 30,000 nurse members. By the time Yox retired, it had over 1 million nurse members worldwide.

“It was scary but also a lot of fun!” she says. “I can admit now I didn’t even know how to type at that time, but I didn’t tell my new employer that.

“I still remember being in this big warehouse-style room for my orientation in New York City and being handed a computer and a password to log in,” she adds. “The orientation was basically, ‘Here is our site and this is what we do for docs, now figure out what we should do for nurses and make it happen!’ So when I got over my initial terror, I basically had the freedom to develop the job and the website from scratch and it was really, really exciting.”

Having come from a role as an executive editor, Yox had a strong background in writing, editing and publishing. Her challenge was to learn how to translate those skills from print to web.

“Since my original assignment was to develop and manage a site for nurses, my nursing background was, of course, a huge plus. Most of the people working in health online in the late '90s and early '00s were either journalist types, who had focused their career in health publishing, or health types, who taught themselves to be editors. So it all worked out!”

Two decades of digital developments

“My job at Medscape was extremely varied,” she says. “I found experts and solicited content, including in-depth reviews and expert opinions; worked with our news team to cover relevant news stories; reported on clinical conferences; interviewed experts; organized topical reports; updated the various Websites and managed weekly online newsletters.”

Although unique for a nurse, Yox highly valued her editorial career.

“I loved the freedom of working fairly independently, especially in the early years,” she says. “I enjoyed working in a home office for 20 years while getting a full-time salary. And I liked working with key experts in the field for such a long time.”

In her most current role before she retired in 2018, Yox was Medscape’s director of editorial content, where she managed the nurse website, along with the public health and infectious diseases websites.

“I was always learning,” she says. “I joked that while I was not active clinically (so I couldn’t 'walk the walk'), I was very up on the latest research and interviewed worldwide experts for stories. So I could definitely ‘talk the talk!’”

Over the course of those two decades, Yox saw a lot of different digital developments.

“The greatest change was just the growth of the whole field,” she explains, “as online information and learning moved from being a novelty to becoming one of the primary ways people learned. The content we developed over the years became more and more sophisticated, including slideshows, movies, surveys, quizzes, specialty newsletters, video interviews, social media initiatives, etc.”

Yox believes nurses should consider working in nursing editorial content roles if they enjoy writing and editing and are also passionate about giving a voice to nurses in health-related publications.

“A huge part of my self-ascribed role at Medscape over the years was as an advocate for nurses,” she says. “Because about 85% of the specialties at Medscape were (and are) physician-focused, it was important to have a voice constantly advocating for nurses. I took that role very seriously!”

Story by Grace Gerass

Published April 5, 2021