Note: if you are interested in learning about how stethoscopes work, visit Tools of the Trade: the Stethoscope and How to Use it.
The stethoscope is the one piece of equipment you definitely need. What follows are our favorites. NOTE: we have no affiliation with 3M/Littman – we just like their lifetime warranty, and prefer them (hands down) over other brands.
For Adult Patients:
Ask around and it will be clear that the Littman Cardiology III is the standard by which other stethoscopes are measured. You can pay less and get much less. You can pay more to get gold plating or digital recording features (quality digital scopes are much more expensive), but we’ve never seen the point. For our money, the Cardiology III delivers the highest quality for the right price. There is a 24-inch version, but we prefer the 27-inch tubing, as it hangs more comfortably around the neck. Don’t worry; modern materials and design have eliminated any noticeable difference in sound quality or volume of the longer tube. In fact, there some evidence that a slightly longer tube may provide a broader sound spectrum. If you want an excellent stethoscope that will last you for years (Littman scopes come with a lifetime warranty) this is the one.
On a Budget?
If you’re on a tighter budget, or you’re in the market for a more basic scope, the Littman Master Classic is a solid choice. This one is intended for the generalist, or the emergency responder. You’ll notice that its chest piece is single-sided, so there is no “bell” feature for listening to lower tones, but many clinicians don’t find a bell an absolute necessity. It is also possible to simulate a bell by using light pressure when auscultating. Again, we prefer the longer 27-inch tube over the 24-inch for comfort. Finally, the all black finish has a serious look, and is uncommon enough to avoid your steth being accidentally taken home by someone else (an occasional problem with the ubiquitous Littman Cardiology III).
For pediatric patients:
If you work in a primary care setting and see an occasional child, you can get away with an adult scope by using the bell with a little less pressure, but if you work in pediatrics, you’ll definitely want a pediatric stethoscope. The Littman Classic II S.E. Pediatric is a good choice, and features soft diaphragm and bell covers, so you won’t have to warm it up before placing it on the kiddies. The heads are sized and contoured to fit infants and children, giving you better contact and clearer sound. If you’re working with kids, consider another color, just for fun – black is so stodgy and grownup! The one pictured here is “Caribbean Blue.”