Debra graduated with a Degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Queensland in 1984. In 1991 she was awarded the Degree of Master in Health Administration in the University of NSW. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and an Associate Fellow of the Australian College of Health Service Executives.
From 1985 to 1992 she was on the Medical Staff of the Repatriation General Hospital (Greenslopes Hospital), Queensland where she was an intern, resident medical officer and then Director of Quality Assurance.
In 1992 she moved to the Western Hospital in Victoria. Until 1994 she was Deputy Medical Director when she was appointed as Medical Director. She was Chief Executive Officer in 1995 while also remaining as Medical Director following re-organisation of the Victorian Public Hospital System. She then became Clinical Services Manager of the Western Health Care Network at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She was also involved in the tendering process for the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory.
In 1997 Debra was appointed Director, Medical Services, Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, Hospital Division in Sydney.
Debra was appointed as the first CEO of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia in February 1999.