Buying your first stethoscope

A guide to buying and owning your first nursing stethoscope.

Investment in a stethoscope is vital to any nursing student at the beginning of their studies. You may have images of yourself in future years cruising through a hospital ward in your scrubs with the ultimate accessory –  a cool looking yet useful stethoscope around your neck! It’s great to have a vision…however, the reality is that in most hospitals in Australia the accessorising of a stethoscope for nurses is saved for the few who work in areas such as emergency, intensive care or rural and remote clinics.

As a new apprentice nurse, though, you will need to learn how to use a stethoscope for many assessments of a patient’s condition, e.g. blood pressure, cardiac, respiratory and digestive assessments.

Single head stethoscope

But what type, brand, price and, most importantly, what colour should you be looking for? Many types are available from medical stores, university bookshops and online, with prices ranging dramatically from $30 to many hundreds of dollars.

I was told many years ago that when it comes to medical equipment ‘you get what you pay for’. So, if you are short on funds will a cheaper stethoscope work just as well? Well – ‘yes’ actually, it will for, especially in terms of what you will need at the beginning of your nursing training. You can always upgrade later.

However, there is one important consideration where a more expensive stethoscope trumps the $30 variety: the quality and clarity of sound. For those who are hearing impaired (like me), this can make a vast difference. That being said, if you are in a room full of chatty nursing students attempting to learn to take a blood pressure for the first time, you won’t hear it accurately – no matter how good quality and expensive a stethoscope you have!  Should you choose to buy an expensive stethoscope or are lucky to be gifted one from loving family or friend, be prepared to have it lost, stolen, damaged and soiled in your years ahead.

So where do you start to look? Often it’s easier to look from within your own circles first. Ask your friends, other medical professionals and do a quick Google search. If you have the opportunity, try different brands to see what you like. Dashing out to buy a litmann cardiac for over $300 will leave you strapped for cash and perhaps getting a few glances at nursing prac as to why you would have a stethoscope that fancy when it’s not required at this novice level.

A stethoscope can be broken down into 3 major parts. Head, tubing and ear pieces.

Dual head stethoscope

The head: Some have single heads, with just a diaphragm. Others have dual heads: one side being a diaphragm for listening to chest sounds , while the other is the bell used for digestive sounds. (The switch between the two directs the sound from one or the other, you will need to know how to do this by twisting the head).

Tubing: The tubing has a variety of differences, some have single tube from head to the ear pieces, others have double. The thickness of this tubing does vary often according to the price. The thicker the tubing, the greater the quality of sound.

Ear pieces: Often considered the most important aspect as the level of comfort in using one varies from person to person. The cheaper varieties tend or have hard plastic ear pieces, these are most likely interchangeable with softer ear pieces. Some more expensive, high-quality stethoscopes come with a number of different earpieces to choose from.

Most of the parts of a stethoscope can be replaced, depending on the make and model. The more popular brands like litmann have spare parts available, so when you lose one of the ear pieces all hope is not lost! have a great starting range of stethoscopes and also deals in other assessment tools such as blood pressure cuffs, nurse pouches, watches and the like at reasonable prices.  I have found them fantastic to deal with and very fast with shipping. stock a wide variety of all types, brands quality and colours. The additional offer of engraving your name on the bell of your stethoscope with your purchase decreases the risk of losing it. My most recent purchase was for a littmann classic II for around the $100 mark. They also have many spare parts to purchase.

The need for you to be skilled in application and use of your stethoscope – rather than its accessorising your outfit -is paramount to your nursing career. Remember these instruments touch patients bodies and are a great point for transmission of infections; good infection control practices are required to care for this equipment to allow you to care for your patients.

Good luck with your purchase!


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