The Ultimate Stethoscope Buyer’s Guide | Scrub Pro Uniforms

The Ultimate Stethoscope Buyer’s Guide

The Ultimate Stethoscope Buyer’s Guide

Are you in the market for a new stethoscope? Your stethoscope is the tool of your trade and an investment in your practice – so it is essential to learn and consider all your options.  Make the most of your investment by understanding what features you need for your job and what characteristics to consider when buying. Whether you are a student buying your first stethoscope or an experienced professional looking to upgrade – read on for a complete overview.
First, we will review the basics of how stethoscopes work and the parts they have in common. 

Stethoscopes 101:

Sound travels from the chest piece of a stethoscope (placed on the patient) through the stem, tubing, ear tubes, and earpieces to the clinician.   

The Essential Parts of a Stethoscope:

  • Chest piece: Contains a bell and diaphragm in various configurations for hearing both low- and high-pitched sounds.
  • Stem: the portion of the tubing that connects to the bell
  • Tubing: This may be a single or dual tube. If you have a dual tube, make sure you can’t hear the tubing rubbing together when you listen. 
  • Headset:The metal (usually) part that attaches tubing to earpieces.
  • Ear tube: Usually metal, the pieces that connect tubing to earpieces.
  • Earpieces (Tips): Rubber pieces of the stethoscope that are inserted into the external ear canal for listening

Types of Stethoscopes:

There are many different names and styles out there. How do you know what is what? It’s not that confusing once you understand what each one does!
The diaphragm's frequency is used for lower frequencies, such as lung sounds. 
Single head stethoscope – Primarily used for heart sounds, this type has a diaphragm only.  It has a wide range of diaphragm frequencies and a more precise sound. 
Electronic stethoscope – allows amplification of sounds for practitioners with hearing difficulties or for higher levels of detail when listening. 
Specialty stethoscopes – Neonatal, pediatric, and fetal stethoscopes are specialty models, typically dual-head, with smaller sizes. 
Disposable stethoscopes are serviceable and offer a way to avoid sharing equipment among patients with transmittable diseases. They come in multi-packs and are intended for one patient's usage.  

Brands of Stethoscopes:

There are many brands of stethoscopes, some well-known and others more basic.  Reviewing reviews from other health professionals and information like warranty and availability of replacement parts is helpful when considering brands. 
Littman is a brand you will hear often, with many different product lines, colors, and styles.  Parts are replaceable, and Littman offers generous warranties. 
Prestige Medical stethoscopes come in fun styles and colors and offer excellent value!  This is the brand I started with in nursing school, and it served me well as I learned my assessment skills and took on my first healthcare job. 

Assess your Needs:

Are you new to the medical field and unsure what you need? There are many choices, including brands, sizes, and sensitivity levels.
Student stethoscopes: Make sure your investment will be an excellent tool during your school years. 
Cardiology and specialty stethoscopes: If you're going into a specialty area, you may need to invest in a specialty tool. Cardiology stethoscopes have a diaphragm that adjusts based on how hard you press it against the patient’s skin. Picking up those murmurs and subtle changes will be easier with a top-of-the-line piece of equipment.
Wearability—Are you accustomed to wearing your stethoscope around your neck? In a holder? In a cargo pant pocket? Think about the tubing length you prefer, what you are used to, and the heaviness of the piece. These may seem like small details, but over 12 hours, they become more significant matters!

Pro Tips:

Get the stethoscope head engraved to personalize and protect against loss or theft. (Unfortunately, it can happen!)
Clean your stethoscope as the manufacturer approves, typically with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a dedicated stethoscope cleaner.  Clean it often – between each patient and when you wash your hands. 
Do not leave your stethoscope in a hot or cold car or in any conditions that would cause the parts to degrade. Those of you who loop it over your car's rearview mirror—I am talking to you! You will have to replace the tubing much sooner than expected. 
Now you have stethoscopes' structure, function, brands, and inside details – you are an expert shopper ready to conquer the stethoscope world!  Use your professional ears to help your patients and look good doing it. 
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Tammy McKinney, a seasoned Registered Nurse, distinguished healthcare writer, and founder of, is committed to using her medical knowledge to educate, inform, and entertain healthcare workers and their patients. To connect with Tammy directly, check her out on LinkedIn.