Do you need to be a nurse to become an IBCLC?

A resounding NO to that one! No, you do not need to be a nurse to become an IBCLC.

As a nurse, it’s hard for me to imagine how a non-nurse could possibly acquire the knowledge and skills to become an IBCLC. However, just recently we heard from one of my course attendees; she got 91% of the questions on the IBLCE exam correct – on her first try! We were thrilled for her!

In good company

So yes, of course it can be done. Look around. I can immediately think of people who are IBCLCs, but not nurses. I’m thinking of people like Linda Smith, Barbara Wilson-Clay, Kay Hoover, Kathleen Kendall Tackett, who have my profound respect. And they are, by anyone’s standards, exemplary in their work.

Here’s more good news on this. We have offered the Felix Biancuzzo Scholarship for aspiring lactation consultants since 2010, and I’d be inclined to say that half or more of the scholarship recipients have NOT been nurses. Yet, all have demonstrated outstanding competencies and characteristics which our review team felt exemplified those for tomorrow’s.

Different backgrounds, similar challenges

I’d say that hundreds of non-nurses have taken one of my courses. The non-nurses are, in many respects, just like the nurses. Some are overachievers, some aren’t. Similarly, there are some who are good test-takers, while some aren’t. Some do the minimal amount of work required, others immerse themselves in for the fullest learning experience they can have.

Many non-nurses have attended either my Comprehensive Course and/or my Lactation Exam Review course. Without looking in our corporate database, here are just a few examples that come to my head for those who are not nurses:

  • attorney
  • chef
  • chemical engineer
  • dental hygienist
  • doula
  • elementary school teacher
  • librarian
  • marketing expert
  • medical transcriptionist
  • model

Finding your own path

There are those who are not nurses but are considered healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians, and others. Generally, those non-nurses that I’ve encountered qualify through Pathway 3 – it’s usually the best fit for them – but every IBCLC candidate needs to understand what is involved in each of the Pathways. I offer a free webinar where I explain this. If you’re curious, sign up here

For those of you that are already IBCLCs, what field were you in prior to certifying? How has your previous experience helped you in your journey? Tell me in the comments section below!

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Patti Wallis · February 1, 2019 at 11:08 am

Working in a hospital, all our IBCLC’s were required to be RN’s. I drew on my 25 years as an RN every day. I then went on to practice as an IBCLC for the next 20 years. My extensive knowledge base in newborn and special care nursing was utilized daily, in decision making and giving the very best care to moms and babies. I am now retired with so many wonderful memories.

    Marie Biancuzzo · February 12, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Patti, I hear you. Truth is, we all bring to our IBCLC role our previous experience, expertise, enthusiasm and more–whatever that might be. Hoping you are enjoying retirement! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Jean Bonnyman, IBCLC · February 1, 2019 at 12:27 pm

No, you don’t have to be a nurse to be an excellent IBCLC, but try telling that to hospital administrator employers! None of the hospitals in my area (East Tennessee) will consider hiring a non-nurse for a position as an IBCLC. I find this very frustrating as job prospects are more challenging for those of us who did not attend nursing school. Pathway 3 can be difficult because clinical mentorships are few and far between. I had to temporarily relocate to Charlotte, NC, to take advantage of a hospital-based internship program in order to earn my clinical hours. My background is art history (undergrad) and publishing (by career).

    Marie Biancuzzo · February 12, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    What you’re saying about hiring non-nurses for hospitals seems more widespread than just your area. I’ve taught in 40 out of the 50 states and have heard this often. So I’m eager to remind everyone that my post was about eligibility, not employment, but since you brought up the employment thing, let me briefly address that. From the administrator’s point of view, there are lots of hospitals issues that can make it soooooooo much easier to just hire a nurse. I’m not saying that makes it right or wrong, I’m just saying, it is often the practicality of the matter if you are a hospital administrator.

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