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Whether you’re a nursing student or a seasoned healthcare professional, having the right equipment is crucial. Alongside backpacks, pen lights, pens, notepads, and nursing scissors, a stethoscope is part of every nurse’s daily kit.
A high-quality stethoscope is essential for performing proper, accurate assessments that can help determine a plan of care. An unreliable stethoscope can make it challenging to observe subtle changes in a patient’s health – and can lead to delayed treatment or even misdiagnosis.
A few stethoscope brands are well-loved and frequently used today, like MDF, Littmann, Prestige, and ADC. But if you aren’t totally sure how to choose the right stethoscope, our 2023 guide can help. Here are our recommendations for the best stethoscopes for nursing students!
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What Are the Different Types of Stethoscopes?
Before we discuss stethoscopes for nursing students, let’s first talk about the types available today.
In existence for over 200 years, they remain the most commonly-used diagnostic devices today. There are different types of acoustic stethoscopes, but they generally comprise a chest piece, tubing, and earpieces.
Electronic or Digital Stethoscope
This type of stethoscope operates differently from the manual acoustic variety. A digital stethoscope uses a contact microphone to pick up sound vibrations and converts them into electric signals. These signals can be filtered to remove certain sound frequencies, minimize (or entirely eliminate) background noise, and significantly amplify important sounds.
This type helps hard-of-hearing students and healthcare professionals. Amplified digital stethoscopes can boost a sound’s volume by up to thirty or forty times.
Should I Get a Single Head or Dual Head Stethoscope?
Stethoscopes actually come in single, dual, and triple head configurations.
Single Head Stethoscope
These devices only use one side when listening. In general use, they allow medical professionals to focus on low or high-frequency sounds. Nurses typically use single head stethoscopes when taking vital signs, performing heart sound assessments, and doing lung auscultation.
Dual Head Stethoscopes
This type of equipment features a chest piece with two heads: a diaphragm on one side and a bell on the other. The diaphragm is the flatter, larger side and is used to listen for high-frequency sounds (like breath). The bell side is more effective when it comes to low-frequency sounds (like GI tracts).
Triple Head Stethoscopes
These stethoscopes feature three heads on their chest pieces and are most often used in cardiac assessments. Out of all three, this type is the least popular for nurses.
Best Stethoscope for Nursing Students: Top 2023 Contenders
To compile our list of recommendations, we polled current nursing students and graduates about their favorite stethoscopes. We then further narrowed the pool by checking reviews and considering factors like cost, type, and build quality. Our meticulous vetting process has allowed us to present you with this list of contenders for the best stethoscope for nursing students.
3M Littmann Classic III
- 27 inches
- Double-sided head works for adult and pediatric patients
- Tunable single-piece diaphragm on both the pediatric and adult sides allows you to hear different sounds, according to the pressure used on the chest piece
- 5-year warranty
- Soft-sealing ear tips
- Multiple colors and designs to choose from
The Classic III often tops lists as the best Littmann stethoscope for students and professionals alike, and it’s easy to see why! This timeless tool offers a balance between price, features, and build quality. With good care, you can use the Littmann Classic III long into your career without ever having to switch to a different model (unless required for your specialty).
Thanks to its double-sided chest piece, the Littmann Classic III works great for both adult and pediatric patients. It also comes with a non-chill diaphragm for patient comfort, as they won’t need to feel cold metal on their skin.
Prestige Medical Clinical Lite
- 31 inches
- Made using anodized aluminum for a sturdy design
- Comes with some replacement parts
- Classic dual-head design
- Lifetime warranty, free lifetime replacement parts
- Multiple colors and designs to choose from
The Prestige Medical Clinical Lite is an incredibly affordable stethoscope that doesn’t sacrifice quality. It features a classic dual-head design that allows students to hear and differentiate heart sounds with increased clarity. For patient comfort, this model offers a non-chill bell cover.
3M Littmann Lightweight II
- 28 inches
- Incredibly lightweight at only 118 grams (4.16 ounces)
- Dual-sided head design with an open bell and tunable diaphragm
- Features a teardrop-shaped design on the chest piece, allowing it to fit more easily under bandages and blood pressure cuffs
- Soft-sealing ear tips
The Littmann Lightweight II is a fantastic option for nursing students and professionals who need a device that’s so light it feels effortlessly easy to carry it around all day. It comes with a tunable diaphragm that allows you to hear different frequency sounds, depending on the pressure placed on the chest piece.
Compared to the Littmann Classic II, The Lightweight II offers a slightly lower acoustic performance but it still works well for tasks like taking blood pressure readings and doing some limited patient assessments.
ADC Adscope Lite 619
- 30 inches
- Even more lightweight at only 105 grams (3.7 ounces)
- Tunable diaphragm
- Complimentary refurbishment when damaged; free lifetime parts replacements
Weighing in at only 3.7 ounces, the ADC Adscope Lite 619 is an extremely lightweight stethoscope. Despite its lightweight construction, the ADC Adscope Lite 619 is surprisingly durable and supposedly promises similar acoustic performance to stethoscopes that cost two to three times more.
This model also features a tunable diaphragm that lets you listen to low or high frequencies depending on pressure. You can use light pressure to hear low frequencies and firmer pressure for higher frequencies.
MDF Acoustica Deluxe
- 30.5 inches
- Lightweight and affordable yet durable
- Comes in a 7-piece set
- Silicone ear tips in three sizes
- Dual-head design
- Lifetime warranty and free replacement parts forever
If you’re looking for a lightweight yet affordable stethoscope, the MDF Acoustica is certainly one to consider. This tool comes in a seven-piece set that includes small, medium, and large silicone ear tips. The tubing was designed to help eliminate background noise and to ensure that sound is clearly – and accurately – transmitted from the dual-headed design.
The MDF Acoustica comes in a variety of colors and is sold with a lifetime warranty, making it a reliable and long-lasting investment for medical professionals.
ADC Adscope 600 Platinum Series Cardiology
- 27 inches
- Uses AFD (adjustable frequency design) technology, also known as a tunable diaphragm
- Features a sculpted chest piece using surgical stainless steel
- Weighs 7.15 ounces
- Cardiology headset features sensitive acoustics
- Includes additional ear tips and other accessories
- Lifetime parts warranty
The ADC Adscope 600 Platinum Series Cardiology stethoscope uses surgical stainless steel in its CNC-machined chest piece. The chest piece also features a non-chill rim to prevent patient discomfort.
If you’re worried about phthalates, ADC has ensured that this stethoscope has been manufactured without them since 2014. When you purchase this device, you’ll also get an accessory kit that includes two spare pairs of silicone ear tips and an ID tag.
MDF MD One
- Non-chill ring for patient comfort
- Dual head design to capture low or high frequency sounds
- Thicker, longer, and flexible tubing for comfort and clear sound transmission
- Comes in various color combinations and designs
- Packed with small, medium, and large silicon ear tips, an extra diaphragm, and an ID tag
- Full lifetime warranty; free parts replacements for life
The MDF MD One is a mid-range stethoscope with a dual-head design that allows users to listen to low and high-frequency sounds. Upon purchasing this tool, you’ll receive three pairs of silicon ear tips in small, medium, and large, ensuring you’ll find the best fit for a good seal.
The MD One offers sensitive acoustic performance and a no-chill ring for your patients’ comfort. It is backed by MDF’s full lifetime warranty and a free replacement parts for life.
Checklist for Buying a Nursing Student Stethoscope
Finding the best stethoscope for a nurse depends on a few factors. Future medical professionals will need to consider things like their hearing ability and nursing specialization before they can purchase a stethoscope to suit their needs.
One of the most important factors to consider will always be a stethoscope’s acoustic quality. The sound quality depends on the type of head it uses, ear tip sizes, and the kind of tubing.
When shopping for a stethoscope, a nursing student should consider the following factors:
Stethoscopes range from as cheap as $20 to as much as $400. An ideal nursing student stethoscope should be reasonably priced. Some students opt for a cheaper model during nursing school and upgrade to a better tool after graduating.
Type of Head
Depending on the program, nursing school students may be required to select either a single or double head. Dual-head models are more commonly needed in labs, so you may benefit from purchasing this type. Alternatively, you can buy a single-head model that allows you to hear different frequency sounds, depending on the pressure applied on the chest piece when it is pressed to the patient.
Note: There is no need to consider a triple-head stethoscope for nursing school.
Ear Tip Sizes and Types
Good ear tips can mean the difference between hearing everything right and missing important details. Improperly fitting earpieces can mean bad seals, allowing audio leaks that can affect your stethoscope’s acoustic quality.
Ear tips come in various sizes and are usually made from soft gel, hard plastic, or rubber. Choose a stethoscope that comes with the right size and type of ear tip for you.
Stethoscope tubes should be able to hold their shape while remaining adequately flexible to let the user move the chest piece around during an assessment. When shopping for a stethoscope, it’s worth noting that thicker tubing also allows for better and more efficient sound transference.
Product Quality and Ease of Maintenance
To ensure durability, choose a stethoscope with good build quality. You want a listening tool that can last you for a few years — or a very long time with proper care! Also look into tools that are easy to clean and maintain.
If you’re thinking of specializing in the future, you may want to purchase a stethoscope suited to your needs. However, you can always purchase a simpler general stethoscope for now and upgrade later on.
Tips on Caring for Your New Stethoscope
Buying the perfect stethoscope for a nursing student isn’t enough: you also have to take good care of it to make sure it lasts you through the years. Here are a few tips for caring for yours:
- Make sure you store your stethoscope properly and in a clean, dry place to avoid mold formation or other damage.
- After each use, clean your tool using an alcohol wipe, 70% rubbing alcohol, or soapy water.
- Avoid extreme temperatures, strong chemicals, and cleaning solvents that can weaken or damage the tubing.
- Be gentle when handling your stethoscope: Protect your stethoscope from sharp objects, try to avoid smashing the chest piece into anything, and take care when placing your stethoscope down on surfaces.
- Avoid putting anything – especially heavy objects – on top of your stethoscope.
- Wear and tear may mean your equipment needs some TLC. Check your stethoscope regularly for any signs that it may need servicing. Luckily, many stethoscope brands offer lifetime warranties with free part replacements.
- Use a protective case or cover to protect your stethoscope from contamination, as well as damage in transport. Some stethoscopes come with a carrying case upon purchase.
Why Trust The GradCafe?
At The GradCafe, our primary goal is to help equip our readers with the knowledge they need to succeed in graduate school. This is why we strive to provide only the best, most accurate advice, whether it’s by providing information on schools and graduate programs or giving our suggestions for the best nursing school stethoscopes.
To compile our list of recommendations, we polled current nursing students and graduates about their favorite stethoscopes. We then further narrowed the pool by checking reviews and considering factors like cost, type, and build quality. Our meticulous vetting process has allowed us to present you with this list of contenders for the best stethoscope for nursing students in 2023.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Brand of Stethoscope Is Best for Medical Students?
There are many popular stethoscope brands today. Some of the best are included on this list – including Littmann, MDF, and ADC. Littmann appears to be one of the best, most reliably-used in medical and nursing schools.
Do First Year Nursing Students Need a Stethoscope?
Not always, though some programs may require one this early on. You’ll certainly need a stethoscope during practical or clinical training, but that doesn’t typically start until later on in the program. Even if it’s not required, some programs may still recommend that you purchase a cheaper-quality stethoscope during your first year as it may be handy while learning theory and being introduced to medical tools.
Do Med Students Have to Buy Their Own Stethoscope?
Not necessarily. Some (but not all) med schools will provide their students with stethoscopes. If a school doesn’t provide them, a student must purchase their own. If their provided instrument isn’t to their liking, students may also buy a new stethoscope to replace it.
Whether you’re still considering a master’s in nursing or you’re already enrolled, having the best stethoscope for nursing students can help improve your assessments and standard of patient care. Therefore, it’s a great idea to choose a model that fits your budget, provides quality acoustics, and is made with durable components.
We hope that our buying guide has helped you choose the right stethoscope for nursing school. If you think we missed an item that should be on this list, let us know in the comments below!
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Chriselle has been a passionate professional content writer for over 10 years. She writes educational content for The Grad Cafe, Productivity Spot, The College Monk, and other digital publications. When she isn't busy writing, she spends her time streaming video games and learning new skills.
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