How to Hold a Stethoscope and Wear It Correctly

It’s important to know how to wear and how to hold a stethoscope. The picture of a doctor in a white coat with a stethoscope hanging around her neck is iconic. Yet studies indicate most doctors aren’t using their stethoscopes correctly.

Today’s time-starved practitioners rely on newer technologies for testing cardiac and pulmonary function. Unfortunately, these are expensive to use and often unnecessary. Used correctly, a stethoscope is a more effective way to screen children for heart defects and monitor patients with heart and lung problems.

So, for practicing professionals and medical students alike, here’s a quick refresher on how to hold a stethoscope and wear it correctly:

How to wear a stethoscope

Place the ear tips gently into your ears, and turn them so they point slightly forward. This makes a good tight seal, allowing you to focus on the sounds your stethoscope transmits. You’ll know the seal is right when ambient noise becomes very faint.

Unless your stethoscope has a tunable diaphragm, switch between the smaller bell and the larger diaphragm by turning the chest piece in a half-circle, until you hear it click. Then tap the bell and the diaphragm to hear which one is operating.

Correct Positioning - How to Hold a Stethoscope
Correct Positioning

Incorrect Positioning - How to Hold a Stethoscope
Incorrect Positioning

How to hold a stethoscope

Hold the chest piece between the index and middle fingers of your dominant hand. Avoid using your fingertips on the edge of the diaphragm or bell ‒ rubbing them around the chest piece will cause extra noise and interfere with listening. Keep your thumb under the stethoscope tube to keep it from rubbing against your patient’s skin. This, too, will limit the noise interference.

Using a gentle touch, press the stethoscope against your patient’s skin. A stethoscope is neither a relic nor a prop. Knowing how to wear and how to hold a stethoscope correctly gives you immediate access to a cost effective and efficient diagnostic tool.