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Certification Playbook: Getting Your Health Science Courses

An Age-Old Question: What is the Natural Age of Weaning?
An Age-Old Question: What is the Natural Age of Weaning?
For some IBCLC Exam candidates, the 14 required health science courses are easy to check off. If your background includes an RN or another science or health career, chances are, the classes are already on your transcript.
But what if you fell in love with lactation support via a different route and some–or many–of the science courses aren’t in your background? It can feel like a barrier.
We’re here to help you remove barriers and find your way to the IBCLC Exam. This installment of The Certification Playbook brings you all the facts on the health sciences requirement so you can plan your next steps.
Your guide, Angela Love-Zaranka, BA, IBCLC, RLC, served on the IBLCE Board from 2006 to 2012 and sat on IBLCE committees until 2015.
What courses are required?
The Health Science Education Requirements fall into two categories.
There are eight courses you must take from an accredited college or university.
You must obtain a passing grade (or a “pass” in a pass/fail class), and the course must be at least one academic session in length (defined by IBLCE as 25 or more hours).
The courses are:
  • Biology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Infant and Child Growth and Development
  • Introduction to Clinical Research
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology or Counseling Skills and Communication Skills
  • Sociology or Cultural Sensitivity or Cultural Anthropology
There are six more courses, which you will not find at a university, but still need to complete.
  • Basic Life Support
  • Medical Documentation
  • Medical Terminology
  • Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
  • Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
  • Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control
These courses can be taken as continuing education courses. (LER offers a course here that combines five out of the six here, just leaving you to find a local Basic Life Support class.
It’s important to remember that all of these courses need to be completed before you apply for the exam—not by the exam date itself.
Why do IBCLCs need these courses?
Are your clients really going to ask you the function of an alveoli, or quiz you on research methods?
Probably not.
So why are college courses in topics like anatomy and research required for the IBCLC exam?
Love-Zaranka, who was on the committee when IBLCE set the college health science requirements, explains it like this: “It has to do with playing in the same sandbox. Healthcare professionals have common subjects they study during their training. The language and terminology is different from the language utilized when speaking to parents. If you want to talk to a physician, it’s helpful if you know what ‘hyperbilirubinemia’ means.”
Not to mention, the knowledge you gain can come in handy during the exam. “For example, if you know your Latin derivatives, you may be able to figure out a term on the exam that you’ve never heard before!” Love-Zaranka notes.
"I know many people experience these requirements as a barrier to entry to the field. The requirements weren't intended that way,” she adds. “They are designed to make sure you are fully prepared to be an allied healthcare professional--a valued member of the team.”
Do my previous classes count?
The short answer is, probably yes!
If you have already earned some college credits, start by looking over your transcript. Courses you’ve already taken may fulfill some—or all—of the requirements.
Courses have different titles and vary slightly in content, but many classes people take as undergraduates do count.
“Don’t stress about it!” says Love-Zaranka. “If it says something in the title about Biology, or Nutrition, chances are, it counts for that area.”
Looking for more details? Click on this link. Then click on a specific subject, and IBLCE has provided the titles of typical courses that meet each requirement. We also discuss this in our free recorded session, Real Talk: The Realities of Being and Becoming an IBCLC.
Where should I take my missing classes?
Classes can be taken online or in person.
LER partners with Walden University to offer access to college courses online. “The advantage to going through a university this way is that you can apply for financial aid,” Love-Zaranka says.
Starting in 2022, LER is partnering with another institution–Union College. Students through LER can enroll in health sciences courses at this online college that also offers a Pathway 2 program. The program director is an IBCLC–which means that health sciences courses often have more of a lactation focus!
Other affordable options exist, like your local community college.
Or, check out MOOC.org. This searchable website connects you with free or low-cost online college courses, and many of the subjects required for the IBCLC exam can be found here.
The courses are offered by various accredited colleges and universities. By paying a small fee (often $50 to $100) and taking the class, you obtain a certificate of completion that fulfills your requirement. “It’s cheaper than community college,” Love-Zaranka notes.
How can I fit it in?
If your life is already full, enrolling in a college course can feel daunting.
Setting realistic goals is key. “Knowing what you have time for is the first step,” Love-Zaranka says. “Get out your planner and figure out how many hours in your week you can spend on coursework.”
Expect the unexpected and allow for extra family needs, illness, and other contingencies. Only commit to as many courses at a time as you can comfortably do.
This will take forever!
What if you need a few courses … or more than a few? What if you need all of them?
Don’t give up.
“Break down what you need to do and plan it out,” Love-Zaranka says. “And then, continue to feed your passion in the meantime. Hold open that space in your mind and in your heart.”
Can you check in with your local WIC and see if you can volunteer? Or find another option for connecting with and helping lactating families in your area?
“If that gets discouraging because you can’t find an opportunity, pivot and go online,” Love-Zaranka urges. “Find an online mentor—many people are willing to do more online mentoring now because of Covid-19.
“Any time you hit a wall,” she says, “go back and find a place where the path is a little clearer. Then, keep going.”
Useful Links:
Find a summary of the requirements from IBLCE here.
Get a detailed description from IBLCE here.
For a big-picture look at planning your path to the IBCLC exam, see the first post in this seriesLactation Education Resources - Lactation Education Resources Blog - Certification Playbook: Finding Your Steps to the IBCLC (lactationtraining.com).
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