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From Page to Practice: Three Tips for Translating Coursework to Consults

It can be a big leap from memorizing information to providing a consult. These tips will help you transition with grace.
It can be a big leap from memorizing information to providing a consult. These tips will help you transition with grace.
At Lactation Education Resources, we know how important didactic learning is. After all, it’s a big part of what we do! Studying and memorizing, accumulating key information–the signs of mastitis, the function of an alveoli cell … the meaning of relative infant dose.
The learning you’re doing in your lactation courses provides a rich, deep reservoir of essential, specific knowledge.
And that’s really important.
But when you eventually find yourself face to face with a family whose infant is having trouble feeding, how will you translate that knowledge into an effective consult?
When you’re a new lactation care provider, drawing from that deep reservoir to pull apart the problem and craft a concrete treatment plan can sometimes feel pretty hard.
Angela Love-Zaranka, BS, IBCLC, RLC, has been supporting lactating parents for 30 years. She has also been a clinical mentor for 15 years, coaching countless new lactation professionals through the transition from student to provider. We asked her for tips on making the leap.
Tip #1: Take applied courses.
Courses that focus on case studies offer a great chance to build your clinical skills. Rather than starting out with a lactation topic and exploring the details, case studies start out the way you will in the field–with a baby, a lactating parent, perhaps a few support people, and a problem.
Digital courses offer a unique chance to use case studies in an interactive way. In our course, Continuing Education: A Deeper Look: Deconstructing Real Case Studies , learners are presented with six different clinical cases. They make observations, offer advice, make recommendations, and create care plans. Then, they see the outcome of their advice, explore alternatives, and adjust accordingly.
Grand Rounds courses are another great way to make connections between theory and practice. These courses allow the learner to watch a lactation situation unfold over time, just as you would if you were caring for the dyad, while offering facts and information alongside chances to consider how you would apply those facts to advise the client.
Making sure your preparation includes a mix of specific factual knowledge and courses that focus on applying that knowledge allows you to rehearse for your first consult situations. “It gives you practice ahead of time, so you don’t get the flop sweats the first time you walk in,” Love-Zaranka says.
Tip #2: Think like a lactation consultant during all your courses.
You know those moments in most classes where the instructor asks you to pause the video and jot down your thoughts? Or the ones where they put an image on the screen and ask what you notice? It’s easy to let these slip by and just wait for the answer, but if you do, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Hands-on learning is built into almost every LER course. Take advantage of the chances to flex your critical thinking muscles–this is your moment to practice thinking like a lactation consultant.
“There is a very specific process involved in going from novice to expert,” Love-Zaranks says. “The only way you do it is by repetition. But going through the process of thinking critically in your courses allows you to put in some of those reps in a safe environment, so that by the time you’re in a consult situation, you’re saying, ‘This is familiar. I know how to do this.’”
So pause the video, get out your pen, and write–or spend the time to think deeply about how you’d answer a knowledge check question if there was a client in front of you asking! Before you know it, there will be.
Tip #3: Develop Your System, Not Just Your Facts.
It’s easy to imagine that as a lactation consultant, you will walk into a room, be presented with a case, and from your storehouse of carefully accumulated knowledge, provide the answer.
In truth, consults almost never go this way.
Experienced IBCLCs gather information, make observations, think critically, and often hold several possibilities in mind while deciding on the best immediate recommendation. Then based on the result, they continue on the same course, add, subtract, or change direction–possibly more than once!
This is the work of a lactation consultant, and it takes time and practice to develop these skills.
But even while you’re still learning, you can begin to consciously refine your system for approaching a helping situation by bringing awareness not just to what you know, but to how you’re thinking. What steps do you take when you approach a lactation challenge, and why?
Taking opportunities now–within case studies courses, grand rounds, clinical skills offerings–to acquire the skills of a lactation consultant in a safe environment will pay dividends, when you move confidently, systematically, and compassionately through your very first consults as an IBCLC!
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