Best stethoscopes for medical students

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As a med student, it is important to have a decent stethoscope once you start your clinical practice. As a student, you want a stethoscope that has a good acoustic quality for a reasonable price. 

There are plenty of cheap stethoscopes available, but these have bad acoustic qualities. That being said, there is no need to empty your wallet for the same stethoscope as the senior cardiologist.

To make it easier for you, I have collected a group of suitable options. The main consideration is price and quality. They fall into 3 price categories premium, plus, and basic. The premium category is the most expensive, while the basic are the least expensive.

  • 3M Littmann Cardiology IV Diagnostic Stethoscope (Premium)
  • 3M Littmann Classic III monitoring stethoscope (Plus)
  • MDF Stainless Steel Premium Dual Head Stethoscope (Plus)
  • MDF Acoustica Deluxe Lightweight Dual Head Stethoscope (Basic)
  • MDF Sprague Rappaport Dual Head Stethoscope (Basic)

My recommendation is the 3M Littmann Classic III. It costs more than many of the cheaper options but makes up for it in quality. It is good enough to last you through medical school and well into your residency. In fact, I still use it today. 

If you want the full review, continue reading below. There is a lot more to stethoscopes than you think. If you want to learn more, make sure to read the whole article.  to be in a better position to choose the right stethoscope for you.

Premium


3M Littmann Cardiology IV Diagnostic Stethoscope

The premium pick in this selection goes to Littman’s cardiology IV. It is not the most expensive stethoscope you can find but is the highest price you should pay as a student.

It has a dual-head chest piece with different diameters. The Large diameter heads are ideal for general auscultation in adult patients. The small diameter head is great for use on pediatric patients.

Both sides come equipped with the Littman tunable diaphragm technology. This provides you with high-quality sounds in any environment with minimal noise.

The tubing is solid, yet flexible which allows for easy folding into your pocket. Like all Littmann models, it comes with latex-free rubber to avoid irritating the skin. In addition, the rubber tubing on this model is designed to resist skin oils and alcohol. 

The construction is solid and high quality. In addition, acoustic qualities are superior. This is partly due to its dual lumen tubing and soft sealing earpieces. It comes in multiple cube colors and chest piece finishes. Last but not least, it comes with a superior 7-year warranty.

If you want superior acoustic characteristics in a stethoscope this is the model for you. I would recommend it to those who see themselves pursuing a career within internal medicine. You can get it at Amazon today. Click this link to check out the available colors and the current price.

Pro


3M Littmann Classic III monitoring stethoscope

This versatile stethoscope from Littman is a student favorite. It was also my pick when I got my first stethoscope back in medical school. In fact, I still use it in my residency today.

It has a dual-head chest piece with different diameters. The Large diameter heads are ideal for general auscultation in adult patients. The small diameter head comes with a detachable diaphragm. This enables you to use it as a pediatric stethoscope (with the diaphragm attached). Removing the diaphragm gives you a bell stethoscope ideal for low-frequency sounds.

Both diaphragms are equipped with the Littman tunable diaphragm technology. This provides you with high-quality sounds in any environment with minimal noise.

The overall quality is good. The tubing is flexible which allows for easy folding into your pocket. It is latex-free to avoid irritating the skin and is designed to resist skin oils and alcohol. The stethoscope feels solid and durable and is easy to wash. I have frequently disinfected mine with ethanol over several years and can see no signs of damage. 

The headset with the ear tubes and earpieces are designed with comfort in mind. It comes in multiple cube colors and chest piece finishes. Last but not least, it comes with a solid 5-year warranty.

Overall, I consider this to be the best option for any medical student. It costs more than many of the cheaper options but makes up for it in quality. It is good enough to last you through medical school and well into your residency. You can follow this link to head over to Amazon, here you can see if they have your favorite color and the current price.   


MDF Instruments MD One Stainless Steel Premium Dual Head Stethoscope

Littman’s only direct competitor on this selection. However, it puts up quite the fight. While it does not compare to the premium pick, the acoustic quality is on par with the Littmann Classic III.

It too comes with a dual-head chest piece with different diameters. The small diameter head also comes with a detachable diaphragm. This enables you to use it as a pediatric and bell stethoscope.

The overall build and quality are also comparable to the Littmann classic III. It has a solid and durable feel. The headset is comfortable and the overall look is classic. The only real downside is its slightly stiffer tubing. 

This is more than made up for by the positives. Most notably the price (depending on color) which is significantly cheaper. Also, it comes with spare parts included and a superior Free-Parts-for-Life & Lifetime Warranty

Overall this is a really solid stethoscope that offers good quality for a reasonable price for any medical student. You can check it out yourself by following this link to head over to Amazon. Here you can find your favorite color and read tons of reviews from satisfied customers.

Basic


MDF Acoustica Deluxe Lightweight Dual Head Stethoscope

One of two MDF instruments models that make up the basic selection. This dual head stethoscope looks and feels professional. But when compared to its higher quality peers you can feel that is lighter in weight. Also, the acoustic quality is not on the same level.

It comes with a dual-sided chest piece with different diameters. The Large diameter side comes equipped with a diaphragm for general auscultation in adult patients. The small diameter side functions as a bell stethoscope for low-frequency sounds.

Will this stethoscope will get the job done for a medical student? Yes. Is the quality good enough beyond med school? No. That being said, when taking the price into consideration, it offers very decent value. Especially considering you get the MDF instruments Free-parts-for-life & Lifetime Warranty.

If you want to save a few bucks before deciding whether to get a higher quality stethoscope in the future, this might be the one for you. Click this link to head over to amazon to check its color offering and bargain price.


MDF Sprague Rappaport Dual Head Stethoscope

The highest quality piece of the basic selection. The price and quality combination is such that I am actually tempted to recommend this one more aggressively. At the same time, I hold myself back by knowing that it won’t quite do the job after med school.

The design of this one is somewhat different. It has a dual tubing running all the way down to the chest piece. Overall, this is known to increase sound quality. 

In addition, it comes with a versatile dual-sided chest piece. This is in large part due to adult, pediatric, and infant attachments being included. This means you will have a stethoscope suited for any patient in this one piece.

Another positive is the superior MDF instruments Free-parts-for-life & Lifetime Warranty. Although I won’t flat out recommend this one over the higher quality ones. I will say that if you want a budget stethoscope, this is the one to get.

You can click this link to head over to Amazon. Here you can check out the neat design, the available colors. You can also read tons of comments from happy customers and get its current price.


Do medical students need their own stethoscope?

The short answer is yes. Once you start to do clinical rounds you should have your own stethoscope. The doctor you are doing the rounds with tends to be busy. Therefore it is best to have your stethoscope at hand once you are to listen to a patient’s heart or lungs.

The ward probably has some spare stethoscopes, but these are generally of very poor quality. You might also be able to borrow your classmates’ stethoscope, but this is a rather unsanitary habit.

The stethoscope is to a doctor like a hammer to a carpenter. Get your own to avoid slowing down the class when doing rounds and annoy your classmates. If you get a high quality it might even last until you become a senior doctor one day.

Structure and function of a stethoscope

On the surface, a stethoscope is not very eye-catching. However, when I did some research for this article I found that there is more to a stethoscope than what meets the eye. 

In order to understand what makes a good stethoscope, you have to know its basic structure and function.

The most important part is the chest piece. This is the part that is placed on the patient to pick up sound. The chest piece is typically equipped with a diaphragm to increase the acoustic quality. There are different types of chess pieces. Some are one-sided while Others are two-sided (more later). The chest pierces or the sides (in two-sided ones) can vary in size. The larger diameter is normally used for adult patients, while the smaller-diameter is best for pediatric or thin patients.

A chest piece includes the diaphragm (for high frequencies) and the bell (for low frequencies). A chest piece may be simple or double. A simple chest piece includes the diaphragm and the bell on one side, and which one you hear just depends on the pressure applied. A dual chest piece stethoscope has the diaphragm on one side and the bell on the other.

The chest piece is connected to the headset through with a tube. This tubing conducts the sound picked up in the chest piece to the ears. Here stethoscopes can differ as there are single and dual lumen types. 

Single lumen means that there is one tube connected to the chest piece, which then splits into two tubes for each ear in the headset. Dual lumen stethoscopes, have two tubes attached to the chest piece, one for each ear. 

In general, dual-lumen stethoscopes are more sensitive than single lumen stethoscopes. In most stethoscopes, the tubing is covered by a protecting outer plastic tube. This means that you won’t necessarily see if it is single or dual tubing.

The tubing ends up in the headset. The headset is made up of 2 eartubes which end in 2 ear tips that fit into the user’s ears.

What are the characteristics of a good stethoscope?

Good acoustics 

The essence of a good stethoscope is its ability to amplify the sounds when auscultating patients. This starts with the stethoscope being equipped with a good chest piece and membrane/diaphragm. 

The biggest problem with cheap stethoscopes is their poor acoustics. The sound of what you want to hear (heart, lungs, etc) tends to be very low, while any sound created by any slight movement on the skin creates a lot of noise.

The most effective diaphragms comprise of a flexible, high-quality material such as Polyethylene compound film and resin. Littman models come equipped with tunable  Resin diaphragms. These have great acoustic quality and allow you to hear higher frequencies with firm pressure, and lower frequencies when they apply light pressure. 

High-quality construction

Stethoscopes are primarily made from aluminum and rubber. High-quality models use better raw materials which result in superior durability and weight characteristics. This is important as it will affect the overall acoustic quality as well as its comfort of use.

High-quality models are lightweight and are balanced to make it convenient to hang around the neck. In lower-quality models, the chest piece is often heavier. This can cause the stethoscope to easily slide off.

The quality of the rubber tubing is also important. It plays an important role in the elimination of outside noises and for overall sound transmission. The optimal tubing is made of hardy, and durable, yet flexible material, such as polyvinyl chloride.

Comfortable to use

In addition to being lightweight, comfortable, and easy to carry. Stethoscopes should be comfortable when used. Many cheap, low-quality stethoscopes are very uncomfortable to use. One of the main reasons for this is the construction of the headset and earpieces.

Many cheap stethoscopes come with non-angled eartubes that are equipped with hard, plastic earpieces that are very uncomfortable to use.

The headset should be equipped with eartubes that positioned at an anatomically correct angle. This ensures a proper fit into your ear canals. Also, the earpieces should be soft and smooth which gives a good acoustic seal and comfortable fit.

Easy to clean

In the ward, you encounter and use your stethoscope on several patients every day. Some of them will carry various viruses, bacteria, and disease on the surface of their skin. These can be transferred with the use of a stethoscope unless it is washed in between.

Because of this, one should get a stethoscope that is easy to clean and tolerate regular washing. With regular use, the earpieces might also accumulate some ear wax. This is easily removed on stethoscopes equipped with soft rubber earpieces.

What type of stethoscopes are there?

Not all stethoscopes are created equal. There are several different types of stethoscopes. Some are structurally different. Others differ are designed for specific specialties, while others have turned electric and modern.

Cardiology stethoscopes

A cardiology stethoscope is characterized by superior acoustic quality. This starts with its specialized chest piece. 

It is equipped with a diaphragm that has the ability to hear both low and high frequency sounds without having to change to a smaller head. This enables you to hear even faint sounds like clicks and rubs, making sure you don’t miss any subtle murmurs.

The focus on sound quality also affects the remaining parts of the stethoscope. For starters, the tubing is thicker and tends to be shorter. In this way, the sound does not have to travel as far with preserves sound quality. 

To cap it off, the earpieces are thicker and more comfortable. The reason for this is that they aim to block out any ambient noise that can affect the sound quality. 

Pediatric/infant

Pediatric and infant stethoscopes are used for anything from newborns to toddlers. The main difference in these stethoscopes is the size of the chest åpiece. The size is reduced to allow for more precise placement.

Another common feature is that they may be made of materials that are less likely to be cold. The reason for this is that many small children are not fond of physical examinations. Therefore, the last thing you need is a cold stethoscope to irritate them. 

They are 3 sizes of stethoscopes for children. The smaller the intended patient, the smaller the chest piece is.

Neonatal stethoscopes are used for newborns and small babies under the age of 1 month. These typically have a diameter as small as 2 cm.

Infant stethoscopes are used for babies that have grown a bit larger. By this, we mean babies that are between 1 month up to 2 years old. These typically measure around 2.7 cm in diameter.

Pediatric stethoscopes are intended for older children. Depending on the size it can be used for children between the age of 2-3 and 14. These have a diameter of 3.3 cm.

Electric

Electric stethoscopes use new technology to improve clinical auscultation. In these stethoscopes, the sound picked up by the chest piece is electronically amplified. This is done by converting the sound waves into electronic signals. In some of these stethoscopes, this is done with the help of what is known as a piezoelectric crystal, which is also used in ultrasound probes.

Once the electric signal is generated, it can be processed and amplified for better sound quality and volume. This can enable you to pick up even faint sounds for more accurate auscultation. Also, if you suffer from a loss of hearing, the amplification can be of great help.

How much does a stethoscope cost?

It depends. You can get a stethoscope for as little as 5 dollars. On the other side, expensive models can cost in excess of 300 dollars.

As one might expect, quality is correlated to cost. Which quality of stethoscope you should go for depends on what you will use the stethoscope for. Stethoscopes are used by nurses, doctors, and EMTs, etc. 

These all use their stethoscopes for different things. EMTs and nurses typically use a stethoscope for monitoring heart, lungs and blood pressure. This does not require a high-quality stethoscope.

Doctors use their stethoscopes for diagnostics, which requires higher quality. For example, a cardiologist uses their stethoscope to detect heart murmurs. These can sometimes be very subtle, therefore, a high-quality stethoscope is required in order to reveal it.

What is the difference between single vs dual head stethoscopes?

This is a structural difference that refers to the structure of the chest piece. Singel sided stethoscopes have only one listening surface on the chest piece. The dual-sided stethoscopes have it on both sides. 

The single-sided types are typically equipped with a high-quality diaphragm that picks up sounds with a wider range of frequency. Because of this, Cardiology stethoscopes are typically single sided.

On the dual-sided stethoscopes, the listening surfaces vary in size. In most models, the larger diameter side is equipped with a diaphragm, while the smaller one is not. In this case, the small side is known as a bell stethoscope. The bell side is better suited to pick up low-frequency sounds. In some stethoscopes, you can attach a diaphragm to the bell side of the stethoscope to turn it into a pediatric stethoscope. Because of this, dual-siders types are considered more versatile.

Which stethoscope is suitable for medical students?

As a medical student, you will do clinical rounds in many different wards with different types of patients. If you get an adult cardiology stethoscope, it’s really not suited for the pediatric ward. What you want is a versatile stethoscope that you can use in any ward. 

In my opinion, a quality dual-sided stethoscope is what fits this description the best. The large-diameter diaphragm will enable you to get high-quality sounds when auscultating adult patients in the internal medicine ward. 

At the same time, you can switch to the smaller bell end for low-frequency sounds. Better yet, you can attach a smaller diaphragm to the bell end to give a regular stethoscope for the pediatric ward.

As a student, price should also matter. You should not be tempted to compromise too much quality to save a few bucks. After all med school is the time you should hear the sounds clearly in order to recognize them in your later practice. 

At the same time, if you plan on becoming a surgeon, you won’t need a 300 dollar cardiology stethoscope. This means that you should get a stethoscope that offers good quality for a reasonable price. I believe the 3M Littmann Classic III offers just this.

Closing remarks

Overall, will have to get a stethoscope for medical school. Whenever you get one you should go for the model that offers the best combination of price and quality for a medical student. I think most students get the quality they require in the 60-150 dollar price range.

I hope this article helped you on your way to finding your perfect stethoscope for med school. If know of any great stethoscopes you think should be on this list, let everyone know in the comment section.

Also, if you have any unanswered questions or other comments/inquiries, make sure to leave a comment in the comment section below.