Simulated Heart Sounds: Learning to Listen

A stethoscope and heart image, for heart sounds

Accurate auscultation – or listening to heart sounds, and sounds from other organs including the lungs, with a stethoscope – is a basic skill, yet also comes with challenges. Auscultation helps healthcare professionals, including nurses, physicians, EMTs and paramedics, assess and diagnose patients.

According to John Finley, a professor of pediatric cardiology, heart sounds are not well recognized. In Teaching Heart Auscultation to Health Professionals, Finley points out that medical students, residents, and qualified physicians recognize less than 40 percent of heart sounds heard through cardiac auscultation.

Finley makes several suggestions about how to teach heart auscultation to medical students and nurses. Among them are the use of live-recorded heart sounds as heard through stethoscopes in the classroom, and teaching methods using Web-based or digital recordings and how to reproduce them in lectures.

George Kondos, the vice chair of the department of medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), says most physicians can only identify about 10 percent of the most common hear sounds and murmurs (source). “Most medical students just won’t be exposed to all the different kinds of heart diseases during… medical school,” Kondos explains.

Kondos worked with Dr. Michael Gordon, who invented Harvey, the first simulation manikin, to develop cardiovascular simulation curricula. Kondos belongs to a group of cardiologists that created computer-based instruction tools to instill specific skills in students. Through his efforts, curricula exists to help students learn bedside skills, listen to heart sounds and murmurs, and read an electrocardiogram.

Of course, to hear, students need to learn to listen. Knowing what healthy heart sounds are creates the basis of being able to tell a healthy heart from one with murmurs or disease. For solutions to help you teach heart, lung, and bowel auscultation, Pocket Nurse offers the SAM Basic Student Auscultation manikin and the Laerdal SimPad Sounds trainer.

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