Question: What is the best stethoscope for medical students?
The best stethoscope should be lightweight enough that it is convenient to carry around. It should be of the right length long enough to keep a discreet distance from the patient, and short enough to keep it from disrupting other tasks.
Diaphragms must be of flexible material and of the right diameter 25mm for pediatric patients, 35mm for adult patients and 45mm especially for cardiology use.
The stethoscope must have earpieces that are comfortable, chest piece rim that is non-chill, and good acoustic quality you will have to detect s1 and s2, lung sounds, heart murmurs, carotid bruits, bowel sounds, and most body sounds.
Over and above these qualities, the device must be cost-effective youre a med student, after all. Weve prepared a guide to help you with your decision, but first a little history.
Did you know that the first stethoscopes looked like ear trumpets consisting of a single wood tube?
They were rather heavy and cumbersome to use, until modifications in the mid-1800s gave rise to flexible and binaural tubes.
Todays stethoscope comes with Y-shaped rubber tubing and has become more compact and lightweight, with much improved acoustics.
It consists of two sides – one for the respiratory system, and the other for the cardiovascular system.
Parts of a stethoscope
Stethoscopes come in as many types and name brands as are available in today’s market, but they all have three major parts in common chest piece, earpiece, and tubing.
Chest piece – chest pieces have different diameters.
For use on small patients, pediatric practitioners will want a 25mm chest piece; heart or cardiac specialists will want a 45mm piece that affords hearing faint heart beats and sounds.
These pieces may either be single-headed or double-headed.
A double-headed chest piece uses a diaphragm on one side to listen to high frequencies, and a bell on the other side for low frequencies.
A single-headed chest piece, on the other hand, has both diaphragm and bell on one side.
Earpiece – stethoscopes have ear tips that come in various sizes and are either soft or rigid and adjustable or interchangeable.
Interchangeable ear tips are perfect for use in a variety of applications and in different situations, like in ICUs, emergency rooms, cardiology procedures, and other medical environments.
Also, an adjustable earpiece affords a user to personalize the fit of the headset to ensure utmost comfort.
For emergency responders or medical practitioners working in loud and noisy environs, stethoscopes that feature ambient noise reduction should be perfect.
Tubing generally, a stethoscope’s tubing ranges from 20 to 28 inches long.
The longer the length, the better it stays draped round the neck, and what better way to keep the user a bit farther from ill patients.
It may either be single-bore or bi-lumen. The latter incorporates two tubes into a single-tube design, to prevent the tubes from friction, thereby creating unwarranted noises and other distortions.
Wider tubing also provides much improved sound quality.
Types of stethoscopes
Practically every medical practitioner, healthcare provider and even a medical or nursing student, needs a quality stethoscope.
The kind of stethoscope that one should buy, however, must definitely depend upon his or her work or profession.
While stethoscopes vary in design and materials used, they generally fall into four basic types, namely:
Acoustic – this original model, designed by Rappaport and Sprague in the 1940s, uses a diaphragm (plastic disc) that creates high-frequency sounds, and a bell (hollow cup) that creates low-frequencies.
It uses a chest piece with hollow tubes to transmit these frequencies to the user’s ears. Although quite effective, it emits particularly low sound levels.
Electronic – more popularly known as stethophone in the world of medicine, it uses electronic transducers to convert sound waves of the body into amplified electrical signals to deliver richer and louder sounds to the listener.
Because stethophones transmit sounds electrically, they can enhance and record the audio output (for likely evaluation at a later time), provide noise reduction, and transmit data to a computer via Bluetooth.
Recording – a special type of electronic stethoscope, it connects the audio output to a recording machine which stores the data for later use, and which recordings can then be shared for out-of-the-way monitoring and diagnosis at a later examination.
Fetal – also known as fetoscope, this trumpet-shaped instrument is placed against a pregnant woman’s abdomen to listen to heartbeats of the fetus.
It was invented by Adolphe Pinard, a French obstetrician.
What to look for in a stethoscope
Choosing the best stethoscopes does not come easy especially when all the pieces of information you have are claims from manufacturers offering the best stethoscope there is in the market.
You can opt for the more expensive trusted brands, but would that alone guarantee you’re getting the best deal? A couple of pointers could help you decide which stethoscope is best for you.
Quality vs. Aesthetics – beware, looks can be deceiving, especially with ornate stethoscopes.
It would be wise to choose quality over aesthetics otherwise you’ll end up shortchanged getting a stethoscope with run of the mill performance and poor functionality.
An effective stethoscope has the capacity to pick up even the most inaudible sounds in the human body.
It should amplify both high and low frequencies with utmost clarity and intensity.
As mentioned early on, earpieces vary in size and hardness.
Thus, ensuring proper ear fit is the key to a stress-free and comfortable use of a stethoscope.
It should be compact and lightweight for easy carry across the shoulder. Bulky ones are likely to restrict freedom of movement.
Consider the length of tubing, not too long or too short. Just long enough to conduct proper examination of the patient.
Get the right diaphragm sizes: for pediatric use, 25mm; for adult use, 35mm, and; for cardiology use, 45mm.
Go for non-chill rims. They need no warming before placing it on kids or infant patients.
Also look for stainless-steel binaural with tube wall thick enough to prevent absorption of peripheral sounds.
You ought to consider the price, too. The idea is not to compromise on quality over cut-rate stethoscopes. Look for stethophones that are priced reasonably or more that will best serve your purpose.
These bits of information should be more than enough already to help you decide which type of stethoscope you need to buy to last you a lifetime.
Conclusion about the best stethoscope for med students
If you are testing the waters in medical school and are not sure youll finish it, try something cheap.
Losing a cheaper stet will not also be as painful as misplacing a Littman Cardiology (and youre bound to lose one or two of your stethoscopes in the first few years of med school or residency).
As you advance in your studies, you will need better-performing stethoscopes.
You will also be at a better footing to appreciate sounds as you advance compared to when you were a M1 student.