Anyone who spends time watching television or wandering around a health care facility can easily see that the stethoscope seems to be the badge of honor for medical professionals. Hanging around the neck like a necklace or stuffed in the pocket of a lab coat, the stethoscope is ubiquitous to the field of health care. A stethoscope is a unique medical instrument that allows you to hear a patient’s heart and lungs, and the number of occupations in which it is used are numerous and varied.
Physicians may be the first group you’d think of in relation to a stethoscope. Within the more than 130 specialties of medicine reported by the American Board of Medical Specialties, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t regularly use a stethoscope. Plan on at least 11 years of education for this career -- college, medical school and residency -- and even more if you want to specialize. You’ll also need a license to practice and most physicians choose to become board certified.
Physician extenders -- as physician assistants and advanced practice nurses are sometimes called -- are the next group of professionals most likely to be seen wearing a stethoscope necklace. Educated to at least the master’s degree level, PAs and advanced practice nurses provide medical care. Advanced practice nurses include nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists and certified registered nurse anesthetists. All must be licensed, and many states also require that advanced practice nurses maintain certification in their specialty in order to practice.
The nursing profession encompasses nurse aides, medical assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. Any member of this group may use a stethoscope. Nurse aides have the least education -- a high school diploma and on-job training or a short-term educational course that grants a certificate. Medical assistants are similarly educated, although they may have more extensive training such as an associate's degree. Licensed practical nurses spend a year in the educational process, while registered nurses may have an associate's degree, a nursing diploma or a bachelor's degree, and spend two to four years in school. Nurse aides and medical assistants may be certified but are not licensed, while practical nurses and registered nurses are licensed. RNs may also be certified.
Animal lovers will notice that the field of veterinary medicine is another place to find a stethoscope. Whether it’s your favorite pooch or feline friend, the vet is there to help with preventive care, surgery and emergency treatment. Vets spend four years in school and typically have a bachelor’s degree before they enter a school of veterinary medicine. Some graduating students also complete internships to gain extra experience before they begin to practice. A license is required in all states.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- American Board of Medical Specialties: Specialties and Subspecialties
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physician Assistants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nursing Assistants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Medical Assistants
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Veterinarians
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
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