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Favorite nursing gear “must-haves”

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If you’re a seasoned nurse, you may be wondering: How can I be more efficient at my job? Have I really found the best pair of shoes?

And if you’re a nursing student, you may be thinking: Can I get away with a cheap stethoscope? How do I shop for my first real set of scrubs?

Get the tips, tricks and secrets from fellow nurses about tried-and-true gear picks and how to keep everything organized (and not just in your pockets!).

Plus, find out the dream must-have item for fall!

The need for a good stethoscope goes without saying. But does a nurse really need a top-of-the-line stethoscope?

Answer: Nurses agree that if you have some extra bucks to spend, a great stethoscope is a must! So which one is the best? First of all, as nurse Sean Dent puts it, you’re better off avoiding those “Playskool” stethoscopes they try to sell you in nursing school. Be sure your stethoscope is specific to the site you’re working on. The most popular pair for hearing those irregular heartbeats and murmurs, according to Scrubs readers, is the Littman Cardiology III stethoscope. Nurses love this lightweight, high-quality gear with soft, form-fitting ear pieces.

Roll of tape
You won’t want to go out onto the floor without this basic item in your pocket.

Tip: “That roll of tape will fit wonderfully on the end of your LP ears while helping to keep it from sliding around your neck. Tape balances the weight of your scope,” says Betty, RN.

Retractable badge holder


You’ll save precious minutes with these handy badge holders that are the perfect answer for easy, efficient swiping into locked door entries and time clocks.

Tip: When you’ve inevitably run out of pockets, try clipping a couple of badge holders to your hip, suggests Nurse Elaine. Use one to hold your shears and another for your stats. “No fumbling through pockets with clean gloves…they’re just right there,” Nurse Elaine says, “and the cord has never been too short for any task (other than loaning them to the peer who forgot theirs!).”

Nose savers
When was the last time you saw a C. diff patient and thought your nose would positively fall off? Nurse Maureen suggests Halls cough drops to combat those icky smells. Or try one of these other “nose saver” products recommended by nurses—just smear it under your nose two seconds before you enter the patient’s room:

  • Mentholatum (get a jar that’s small enough to fit in your pocket)
  • Vicks VapoRub
  • Peppermint oil

A pen is not just a pen—not to nurses! The next time you’re shopping at an office supply store, don’t get seduced by those fancy expensive pens that run out of ink in three weeks. The expert scout knows the perfect pen has these five nurse-friendly features:

  • Writes nicely at an angle
  • Doesn’t smear
  • Doesn’t leak
  • Has a cushioned grip or is a “fat” pen
  • Comes in multiple colors including black, blue, red and green

Top it off with a good highlighter and you’re ready to hit those charts!

When shopping for nursing shoes, you can easily become overwhelmed with the options: walking/running shoes, dedicated nursing shoes, Crocs, Birks, dishwasher-friendly clogs. The list goes on and on.

The best advice we’ve heard for any nurse in the market for a new pair of nursing shoes? Try out different brands to find the best fit for your feet. It’s absolutely normal to try on a dozen different pairs of shoes. When you find the right ones, you’ll know, because they’ll have these three key features:

  • They’re comfortable and supportive for up to 12 hours.
  • They have plenty of breathing room.
  • They can withstand the wear and tear of your daily duties.

More shoe tips:

  • Shorter nurses may want to consider shoes with a thicker sole. The height of the shoe will help you reach those taller shelves in the supply room.
  • Found the perfect fit but need more support? Try a gel insole to add extra cushion.
  • The soles are key to a good day on your feet: Make sure they’re breathable and slip resistant.
  • If you have varicose veins, try a pair of quality lace-up shoes paired with support hose.

When to break up with your shoes and find a better pair: Pain in your feet, ankles, knees and/or back simply won’t do. The greatest investment you have as a nurse is your own health!

Bottom line: The perfect nursing shoe will have you echoing Nurse Elaine’s comment about her shoes: “Those babies can carry me through the craziest shift every time.”

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42 Responses to Favorite nursing gear “must-haves”

  1. fran

    Scrubs faux pas! Please please please mention the low rider scrub pants so many like to wear! When they bend over the rest of us see wayyy more then we want to!

  2. Neko

    Awesome!!! never thought of that!

  3. Neko

    Smear toothpaste inside of a mask! Lifesaver for the nostrils!

  4. Julie

    a tea bag inside your mask for smelly tasks. And I totally agree with the comment about low-rise scrubs… and thongs don’t really look professional!

  5. Diane

    You left out one important bit — when you find the perfect shoe, get more than one pair!

  6. Gina

    I agree with Diane, and for me it’s the Sketcher’s Shape ups!

  7. Kit

    If you’re looking to try something innovative and new – check out the Timberland PRO Renova series! These shoes are designed to deliver all-day comfort and support to healthcare professionals!

  8. cindie

    I love pants with pockets. SCRUBS have 7. They are my favorite.

  9. christina

    littman steth, alegria “donna’s”, greys anatomy scrubs, dr grip pens, ultra brite yello hi-lighter, black sharpie, stainless small bandage scissors, support socks, lip gloss, and hair band>>>>thats me!

    • Felicia LPN

      4 Pens (blue, black, red and purple – like pens!), highlighter, pen light torch, scissors, artery forceps, tube forceps (great for clamping IV’s in a hurry), Littmans Cardiology classic scope, alco-wipes small pulse ox finger probe, hand over sheet and scrap paper/pad, lip gloss and a few minties for when the BSL runs low and dinner is way too far away.

  10. christina

    i bought a very cute scrub top for 30 dol—got it out to work in the next day and the sucker had 1 pocket!!!! Gah what a waste. 30 dol down the tubes. Nurses cant work with 1 pocked-youd do better driving a bus with your ears!! Got to at LEAST have 2–at the VERY least!

  11. Jake (Soon to be student nurse and CNA)

    Put some gauze soaked in the mouthwash found in “New Patient” bags and place it over the vent in a colostomy bag and no more smell!

  12. Ruby

    I love the shape up’s, dickies scrub pants are amazing…especially if you’re tall.

  13. Sharon Talbert

    we need a tool bag that is some how easy to carry and one you cannot forget in each room, my pockets are so full they pull my shirt down, I need to come up with a cute basket or tool belt for all of our stuff

  14. Rick

    I am the proud owner of a littman computerized steth. My problem is that it is so heavy with the battery and electronics and short too, but its great for hard of hearing folks like me. Any one have any ideas on how to carry it? The holsters at the store are too small.

  15. Jan

    I use a cute fanny pack to hold my extra “stuff”, including tape, scissors, hemostats, alcohol wipes, etc, etc. Everything is handy, clean and covered and convenient.

  16. stephanie

    Smells all around? Nobody likes the smell of C-diff…so take a nebulizer put mouthwash in it and let it freshen the room up… We have mouthwash without alcohol in it that works best!

  17. Your name

    The roll of tape on your Scope is also a great place for bacteria to linger and then transfer to another patient. This practice is frowned upon by most hospitals infection control departments…….sorry.

  18. Patty

    Thank you everyone!! These are all wonderful tips…especially for the student nurse!!

  19. Toy

    The Littman Cardiology III is an excellent choice for students, especially if you want to be an RN. Pet peeve, pants dragging the ground, spreading infection and bacteria all over the place.The unprofessional look is unacceptable.

  20. Terri

    I swear by my Dansko Professionals – they are a leg saver (paired with Support knee highs) and who’s kidding who – you really don’t need an electronic steth $$$ and leave the diagnosing to the docs – thats why they make the $$$- the Littman Master Classic II is wonderful…and only like $80. I promise you’ll still hear the crackles and gallops!

    • BriMarieRN

      Not all of us use an electronic stethoscope to look cool. Unfortunately, some of us have hearing loss from military service that makes an electronic stethoscope a requirement. I had to purchase one for nursing school so I could pass. If I use my cardiac littman, courtesy of the Army, nobody has any lung or heart sounds. My electronic littman is a very necessary piece of equipment for me to be able to do my job.

  21. Cindy

    Another thing that works well is Vicks. A smear in the mask or under your nose and that’s all you smell. Works great for those of us in long term care.

  22. Holly

    I use a craft tote from JoAnn Fabrics to carry all my gear in. There are lots of compartments and it is washable! Plus, it makes for a clean workplace!

  23. Laura

    Every nurse has to wear an ID badge. I just love BooJee Beads ID holders! I mean, if you have to wear an ID, you might as well make it look good. I have purchased their beautiful beaded designs, as well as the ribbons with fabulous art work. They are a must have and all for under $18, what a deal! The website is

    • I would exercise caution using Anything that wraps around your neck. I have been nearly strangled by patients due to this.

  24. The Littman may *look* good but it is antique technology. Once you’ve used an electronic stethoscope with a volume control (gasp!) you’ll never go back. I got a Thinklabs for under $200 (no, I’m not a corporate shill, just a happy customer). Having trouble hearing through all that flesh on your obese patient? Turn up the volume! Seems like a no-brainer to me! Or is that, no-ear-strainer? 😉

  25. Danielle WAlton

    Sanita ( the “old” dansko= still handcrafted) Professionals ALL the way!! A must have for those 12hr shifts, a real leg & back saver!

  26. Haven’t been able to work in over 20 years due to work injury (obese pt). Do not put yourself at risk…if the Supervisor does not send enough help….do not injure yourself…call again and if that doesn’t help….Call a code…..I live in constand severe pain, lost 10 years worth of benefits etc, all my retirement, all my insurance, took back the matching savings and all the interest my money earned in their savings ….. they now have 401K’s but not then. I only wish you all the best. But if you are injured you can’t help anyone!

  27. ko

    we deal with c-diff on our unit all the time and a neat little trick is to open up a bag of coffee, pour the unperked grounds in a coffee filter and set it in the room……works great!!

  28. I’ve been looking for something to carry all the info needed as a Pediatric,Neonatal ICU resource nurse without all the bulk. Thank god for IPod.

  29. noelle

    Regarding draw string scrub pants, just be careful with those confused older ladies…….I almost got “pantsed” by one on a night shift! There were 4 of us trying to restrain her to put in an IV and I had one arm/hand and she grabbed my draw string!!!

  30. kathjo RN

    Love Greyson anatomy scrubs, soft wash up great and look professional, tons of pockets. Must haves…great scissors, from china now originally from Germany . Hemostats. Alcohol in pockets, never have an excuse to not scrub the hub. Use same alcohol wipes to clean stetoscope between patients.i need Chapstick, so when it on sale at the store 10 for $10 I grab a coupon and buy it for my patients…they are grateful, bring old magazines from home ,remove your name and leave them in the waiting room.sugar free mints, yes I share with coworkers. 3 pens , usually I give one away. At the dollar store I buy the round squishy pillows for pts with chest tubes ,long piece of paper tape and that can splint the site, which hurts like hell, a calculator, a strong penlight, which helps find the insertion site for female foleys and check pupils and injury around the eyes. Most important …axe spray for men after baths, shower to shower for everybody, hit the dollar store for bath wash ,I save the condition from the hair dye and use that to untangle matted hair. Make them look beautiful, it shows you care and please clean up the room!

  31. Christy

    I always have my Kelly Forceps attached to me…a million uses…very handy!

  32. johndillingham RN

    Timely article. I’m working on a 20-30 min talk, for some Nursing 1101 students, about to go to their very first clinical experience! My talk will be ‘tools for success’; stuff they need to have on them, to avoid wasting time during those clinical hours. This will be very basic; things like a pen and a spare, paper to write on, up to stethoscopes and kelly’s. I need to find EBP articles to go with. Suggestions?

  33. coupleofchances Student

    I swear by laced-up Rockport shoes to relieve foot pain for those long hour days. Laced-up shoes offer the best pain free arch support and provide the arch stabilization. I wear a t-shirt with a pocket, and sew pockets on the inside of my lab coat in back of existing exterior pockets to hide the seams.

  34. cdolz

    Stethoscopes are also good for communicating with HOH pts put them on your pt and talk into the bell, just make sure you have alcohol wipes for before and after :)

  35. This is a great listing and I agree with everything on the list….except the ‘nose savers’. I think I have been nursing too long as the smells don’t bother me anymore ;o)

  36. scarlett5

    I think the Vicks or peppermint oil is great if you are wearing a mask but otherwise I would avoid it. I once had an anatomy teacher tell my classmates and I when we were working with cadavers that while it seems like a great idea to get rid of smells, because it is actually opening everything up you end up inhaling more of the bacteria/particles in the room. But I love the idea of using it under a mask! And great tip on the coffee grounds in a c. diff room!