A stethoscope may be the most important piece of equipment a nurse purchases. You don’t need to buy the most expensive one, but you also don’t want to rely on the cheapest.
The most crucial factor in choosing a quality stethoscope is the acoustics, or ability to easily hear heart, lung, and abdominal sounds.
Nursing students may choose from:
- Digital or analog sound
- Single or dual lumens
- Angled or straight ear pieces
- Single or dual heads
Tina Vinsant, BSN, CCRN, worked in the cardiovascular intensive care unit and Margaret Ramstad, MSN, APRN, takes a holistic and functional medical approach to healthcare. We asked these two nurses what the best stethoscopes are for nursing students and why they recommend them.
The Best Nursing Stethoscope for Students
As you are seeking the best stethoscope for your nursing practice, consider the following options. These choices rank highly with our nurse experts. Below are the pros and cons of each.
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3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope
This is one of the priciest stethoscope options nurses can choose. But it may also be the best. At peak digital frequency, the stethoscope offers up to 40 times amplification and connects to Eko software so you can visualize the heart sound waves on your smartphone.
The stethoscope has noise cancellation, which reduces background sounds. Nurses can switch between digital and analog modes. The stethoscope was designed to be used with both pediatric and adult patients. This is Vinsant’s favorite stethoscope.
“One of my favorite things to do is to give it to someone to try it out to show them how amazing it is. Then I push the button on the Eko device to show them the enhanced sound and they are always blown away!” she says.
Littmann Master Cardiology
This is the best of the Littmann mechanical stethoscopes. It is more cost efficient, listing for roughly $200. The stethoscope has a single head through which you can hear high- or low-frequency sounds by adjusting pressure on the head.
The stethoscope offers dual-lumen acoustics within one tubing. This eliminates the problems with noise from tubes rubbing together. The ear tubes are angled to align with the ear canals to improve sound and comfort.
Littmann has updated the construction of the tubing so it is more durable and lasts longer. However, some find it also has a tacky feel. Despite its heaviness, this is Ramstad’s favorite stethoscope because of its high sound quality.
ADC Adscope 600 Platinum Series Cardiology
This stethoscope is made from surgical stainless steel with a rim manufactured to not chill for patient comfort. The one-sided head offers the user an acoustic response that resembles a traditional bell and diaphragm. The ear pieces are fixed at a 15-degree angle to improve the seal and comfort.
The dual-lumen tube is enclosed in one tube to eliminate the noise of the tubes rubbing. The company has manufactured the stethoscope without phthalates since 2014. The accessory kit comes with an identification tag and two spare silicone ear tips with snap-on connection. The company offers a lifetime warranty on all parts.
MDF MD One
This midrange stethoscope offers a dual-head acoustic chest piece and is best used in a general clinical setting. The stethoscope comes with three options for earpieces. Users can also have the head custom engraved with a word or quote.
The stethoscope is lightweight and comfortable. Some reviewers have found the color coating flakes off. The stethoscope is constructed from stainless steel and safety lock ear tip adaptors for comfort and better sound quality. The tubing is latex free, flexible, and thicker. The accessory kit comes with three pairs of soft silicone ear tips, an extra diaphragm, and an identification tag.
3M Littmann Lightweight II S.E.
This dual-sided, lightweight, adult Littmann stethoscope has a teardrop-shaped chest piece, which makes it easier to position for blood pressures and dressings. The soft-sealing ear tips help cancel background noise and offer a comfortable fit. The Littmann brand is known for acoustic sensitivity.
The head is made with nonchill technology for patient comfort, and it’s available in a variety of colors. It is less expensive, costing roughly between $55 and $65. Take care to purchase from an authorized dealer as some reviewers find their stethoscopes are not labeled with Littmann serial numbers.
What to Look For in a Stethoscope
Nurses use a stethoscope to assess the chest and abdomen of their patients. When the quality of that stethoscope is questionable, the assessment can be too. When you’re shopping for the best stethoscope for your nursing practice, there are several factors to consider. But the most important factor is the acoustics.
After all, the primary function of a stethoscope is to allow you to listen for and identify sounds. The acoustics allow amplification of sound to the user. Added to this, not every nurse has the same hearing ability. Even minor hearing loss may mean you need a more sensitive stethoscope, or possibly one designed for people who are hearing impaired.
Quality of stethoscope and acoustics is impacted by:
- Type of head
- Ear tip sizes
- Easy cleaning
Type of Head
The quality of acoustics begins with the type of head on the stethoscope. This is the end piece you lay on a patient’s chest or abdomen.
Some have a dual head, with a large diaphragm surface for high-pitched sounds and a bell on the opposite side for lower-pitched sounds. Single-head stethoscopes allow the user to hear different pitches based on the pressure applied to the head against the patient.
Different Ear Tip Sizes
The stethoscope should also be comfortable to use. Choose one with at least three different sizes for ear tips.
Stethoscope tubing should hold its shape but also be flexible to allow the user to move the head around on the patient without losing the ability to hear.
Durability and Easy Cleaning
Finally, the stethoscope should be made of durable materials and easy to clean. Nurses work with many patients, many of whom may be carrying infectious germs.
Knowing the factors that are important in an effective stethoscope is important, but testing your choices may be the best method before purchasing one. Since you have a wider choice of stethoscopes by purchasing online, consider asking your colleagues and other nursing students to try their stethoscopes.
” … it really does matter which stethoscope you get. If you want to hear all of the sounds you learned about in nursing school or you want to catch that murmur no one else caught … you need a good quality stethoscope,” says Vinsant.
Stethoscopes to Avoid
It is just as important to know what to avoid when you’re reading nursing stethoscope reviews. Ramstad advises students not to buy the cheapest or the most expensive stethoscope.
“Get a quality stethoscope, but don’t be swayed by pretty colors or something unique,” she says.
She also advises students to learn with quality equipment, which can improve the learning curve and might make it easier to identify sounds. For example, the Sprague Rappaport style stethoscope has two tubes originating at the dual head and ending in the ear pieces, interfering with sound quality.
“Sprague Rappaport styles are too noisy in general due to the two tubes rubbing together and the two heads often become loose. Drop it once and you’ll need to buy a new one,” she says.
Stethoscopes sold as “student” scopes are often cheaply made and have poor sound quality. Additionally, Ramstad warns students away from lightweight diagnostic stethoscopes. They are generally at a midrange price but the sound quality is mediocre.
Ramstad points out that trying to differentiate lung, heart, and abdominal sounds with a poor-quality stethoscope could result in patient injury.
“This was a lesson I realized when I bought my first Littmann Master Cardiology, which I still swear by today. It was heavier, but the sound quality was night and day,” she says.
Meet Our Contributors
Tina Vinsant, BSN, CCRN
Tina Vinsant started her career in the progressive care unit before moving to the cardiovascular intensive care unit where she became certified in critical care nursing. She started a podcast in 2018 that would develop into one of the top podcasts in medicine on the U.S. Apple podcast charts. Vinsant uses her platform to bring awareness to important issues in nursing and rally the nursing community into fighting for positive changes in healthcare.
Margaret Ramstad, MSN, APRN
Meg Ramstad is a successful nurse practitioner in the Central Florida area who takes a whole person, holistic, functional medical approach to healthcare. She has worked in many areas and attained expertise in internal medicine, thyroid health, and bariatrics. She is also certified as a nutrition and lifestyle practitioner. Ramstad is passionate about education, helping the individual to look for ways to optimize their health that will fit the person’s lifestyle.