The Equipment You Need (or Don’t) for Medical School

“What equipment do I need for medical school?” was a question I had as a nascent first year. At the time, I just listened to whatever my school demanded and bought most my stuff from the bookstore. Bad idea on both counts. I’ve written about some of my favorite purchases and some of the less good ones on this site, but the following is a treatment of everything your school says you should buy and what I think about it:



Your one absolute essential, a possibly career-long piece of equipment. I recommend not skimping. I’ve treated this topic at length elsewhere, but my overall pick is the Littmann Cardiology III.


Reflex Hammers

A reflex hammer is worth having, both educationally and clinically. If you want to elicit a reflex, throw out (or don’t buy) the tomahawk (called a “Taylor”) sold in your school’s bookstore. It’s junk. To get a reflex, you need skill and a hammer heavy and balanced enough to tap the tendon just so. The tomahawks don’t have the heft. The Babinski hammers (the ones with the circular or “Queen’s Square”-style head) are a good choice. They do the job and barely cost any more than the $2 cheapos. But the “best” white coat-able hammer styles (and the ones you’ll see the neurologists rocking on rounds) are the Trömner (and occasionally the Dejerine), which are also the most expensive (and some are absurdly pricey). If you don’t want to spend $20-40 on a reflex hammer but you want to learn and do a real neuro exam, then the Babinski is the reasonable middle ground.

If you have a relatively substantial stethoscope (e.g. Littman Cardiology III), then the edge of the head is heavy enough to get reflexes in a pinch and will save your pocket the additional junk (not quite as professional though). If you have decent percussion technique, you can also tap out a knee jerk (but likely not the others) with your fingers.


Otoscope/Ophthalmoscope (Diagnostic Set)

A “required” but rarely used pair. To buy or not to buy? And if you’re going to buy, which one? Useless cheap POS, affordable and good (Riester Ri-Mini), or the holy Panoptic? I’ve written about this.


Tuning Forks

Chances are your school will also “require” you to buy two tuning forks, the 512 hz and the 128 hz. They’re cheap. The 512 is for hearing testing; you’ll only use it for standardized patient encounters/OSCEs and the like. In real life, you’ll be rubbing your fingers together instead. The 128 is actually useful, at least insofar as performing a proper neuro exam (vibration sense). On the wards, you might actually carry it in your pocket on some clerkships. If you want to save a few bucks, you could buy the 128 and skip/borrow the 512.



Other things many people buy are whitecoat clipboardsBP cuffs, eye charts, trauma shears, and penlights (which I also saw fit to write about). Trauma shears will come in handy in the ER and on the wards, but other than a good penlight, none of these are truly essential.


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