Nurses are Masters at the Fine Art of Caring

Choosing a Stethoscope

© 2012- present Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
A stethoscope is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will own and use as a nurse. It’s a very individual choice and may change over time as new technology comes into play, or if you specialize in an area where you need more specific details. Stethoscopes range in price from a few dollars to several hundred dollars, so you need to know some of the basics before you buy one.

Your stethoscope will be used for tasks such as taking vital signs as well as listening to heart, lung, and bowel sounds.

Five Way Options for Students
As a student, you will need a stethoscope which gives you a broad range of assessment options for both adults and pediatrics, but you don't need to buy an expensive one to accomplish this. The Five Way stethoscope allows you to change the bell and or diaphragm for use on adults, infants or children. You can get one in a combo pack, or by itself. Once you have chosen an area of practice, you can choose from a vast array of general bell and diaphragm scopes.
Tubing Length Optional
The length of the tubing is a matter of choice, as is single or double tubing. Several studies have shown that the length makes no detectable difference in the transmission of sound. Longer tubing allows you to drape the scope over your neck or hang it from your neck and tuck the end into your pocket. This will help you to keep track of your stethoscope.

There are a range of tubing colors and covers or jackets to choose from. Recently however, there has been some study into the safety of stethoscope covers. Preliminary reports have indicated there may be some issues of transmission of germs and disease. Check with your institution's guidelines before buying and using covers.

Novelty Options
You can also find many novelty items for your stethoscope including diaphragms with designs such as smiley faces, animals, and cartoon characters. And your stethoscope can be used to hold items such as adhesive take. STAT GEAR has a terrific inexpensive tool for holding tape on your stethoscope.

Another great option is the Koala Qlip (see below) to attach your stethoscope to your scrubs. Many nurses hang the stethoscope around their neck, but this is not always practical, safe, or even sanitary. The Koala Clip offers options.

Personalize It
The most important accessory you can purchase for your stethoscope is some form of identification. The best is to have it engraved with your name or initials. They do tend to walk. Doctors borrow them; nurses leave them at the bedside or on meal trays.

Having extra ear pieces and diaphragms is also well advised. The first time you find yourself without extras in a critical situation will be the last time you find yourself without them. Peds patients and elderly dementia patients are some of the culprits and removing your ear pieces while you’re doing something else. These can usually be purchased at the same time, and some offer package deals.

Always clean off your earpieces with an alcohol swab before and after use and particularly when allowing anyone else to use your scope. And swab the bell and diaphragm with an alcohol swab between patients.

Warming the diaphragm in your hand before placing on the bare skin of your patient is a good practice to learn right away. This helps reduce the shock of an ice-cold metal startling your patient.

More information about other essential equipment you'll need as a nurse is discussed in Essential Tools for Nursing Students.