I’ve been a nurse since 2010 and tried out many different brands of scrubs, stethoscopes, shoes, penlights, NCLEX review material, apps, bags, and more and more and more… I’ve learned which brands to avoid and which are awesome. I’d like to share my experience with you guys so that you don’t waste all the money I have over the years and can get what works. Let’s go over the answer to the question many new nurses are asking: what kind of stuff does a nurse need?
My shopping list of 10 must-buys when you become a nurse
- Good scrubs – that fit well and are in the appropriate color(s) for your facility/school (I try to have at least 3 sets) – I also go over under scrubs and lab coats
- Good shoes – able to be cleaned easily if bodily fluids come into contact with them and you can stand in them for 12+ hours (1 everyday amazing pair, and a backup, not great pair just in case)
- Compression socks – ones that’ll stay up for 12+ hours and won’t be too loose or too tight (it’s helpful to have 2-3 sets)
- Stethoscope – don’t get the cheapest, or the most expensive
- Badge reels – a solid one that will last plus a few backups
- Penlight – not too dark, not too light and one you won’t lose!
- Pens – gotta have a good pen!
- Small bag/zipper pouch – where you can stash your phone, lip balm, snack, Sharpies, etc. on the unit so you don’t weigh your pockets down
- Big bag – to carry to and from the hospital with room to store everything
- Water bottle – one that will keep your drink cold (or hot) for hours on end
Alright, here we go!
Recommended Nursing Scrubs
I believe nurses should wear scrubs that fit them but aren’t too tight and aren’t too loose. Too tight and it’s inappropriate… too loose and you look sloppy and unkempt. It’s taken me a while to find a few brands that fit my body with this balance. I am 6 ft tall and about 165 lbs. My torso and legs are long, so standard sizes don’t usually fit me well. Needless to say, I’ve tried a lot.
Things I care about with scrubs: I want a yoga-pant waistband (so my back end doesn’t fall out when I’m trying to plug something into the wall, perform CPR, or whatever), ones that will last and are durable through many washings, comfortable yet professional, wrinkle and odor-resistant (antimicrobial is a plus but not a requirement), and ones that fit me well (long enough in the legs and torso).
I will gladly spend more if they last longer and fit well.
The list of scrubs I’ve tried includes Cherokee Workwear, Code Happy, Cherokee Infinity, Dickies, Uniform Advantage Butter-Soft, Braco, Greys Anatomy, and FIGS. I have personally worn them at work while taking care of patients.
Below are my top 4 scrub brands!
#1 Favorite Scrubs – FIGS Scrubs
These are by far my favorite. They last for a long time, are comfortable, soft, and mechanically sound. I also feel like I look pretty fly in them, NBD. However, they’re not cheap. I do believe are worth the investment. I also have a few other products of theirs (socks + jacket) that I wear all the time. I highly recommend getting on their email list because they frequently email out discount codes.
Pros – really high quality, comes in tall, looks really sharp, comfortable, whenever you purchase a set they donate a set to a healthcare worker in need, great waistband, antimicrobial, fluid-resistant, odor-resistant, comfy yet durable
Cons – higher price point, no badge clip, only available on their website and Amazon.
#2 Favorite Scrubs – Jockey
Pros – incredibly comfortable, soft, form-fitting, great pockets, durable, good price point, good throughout a 12-hr shift
Cons – not quite as durable as FIGS, the pockets are not as sturdy
#3 Favorite Scrubs – Infinity by Cherokee
Pros – lightweight, antimicrobial, yoga-pant waistband, tall options, stretchy sides that move with you, good price point
Cons – they get really hot when you run around. I had a few shifts where we had codes and I was sweating and running around and noticed at the end of the day that my skin was irritated. I feel like I look great in them, but I realized I am not a huge dry-fit fan for 12-hours.
#4 Favorite Scrubs – Greys Anatomy Scrubs
I’ve worn these quite a bit in the past and they’re in my regular rotation. They’re by far the softest and snuggliest. However, if you sweat in them they get a bit heavy. I’ve had to get a size larger than usual in the tops just so they fit my longer torso, and because of that, they’re not as formfitting.
Pros – They are extremely soft and snuggly. I mean really soft. They come in tall and the pants fit me well, which is a major plus of mine. They’re available at a ton of places, even the tall pants.
Cons – They are a slightly higher price-point. I have a long torso, therefore the tops are a little short on me and I need to wear a tank top underneath. They can be kind of heavy. No yoga-pant waistband.
Undershirts and Scrub Jackets
Every single shift I wear a shirt under my scrubs. I now wear a long sleeve one and typically don’t wear a jacket. I have two favorite under scrub shirts.
My favorite is, again, the FIGS. It’s called the Cadiz Seamless Long Sleeve Underscrub. It’s incredibly soft and looks sharp.
My second favorite is the Cherokee Infinity Long Sleeve Knit Underscrub Tee. I’m almost 6 feet tall and have really long arms and this shirt and sleeves are incredibly long so it fits me well. The only thing downside is that I’ve had them for a while and they’re getting a bit worn, and getting even longer and starting to look a bit slouchy.
Alright, I’m not super experienced in the lab coat department, but I asked my nurse buds on Facebook, and here were the most popular:
Most people recommended Grey’s Anatomy Lab Coats.
A few mentioned Cherokee as being the cheapest, but not necessarily the best quality-wise.
And (you know this is coming…) of course, FIGS. Again, most expensive but definitely the sharpest and highest quality. I have one ready to go for my MSN practicum and it is outstanding.
Not everyone is going to need a lab coat. You may need one for nursing school, or you may need one for your particular nursing role. However, if you are going to work in acute care at the bedside, most likely you will not need a lab coat for everyday work. Make sure you know you need one before purchasing.
Ok, I’ve tried a ton of shoes. Nikes, New Balance, Crocs, Dansko, KSwiss… I think there’s more? I’m really particular about my shoes. I’ve tried tennis shoes/sneakers, which are nice but only last me a few months before my shins start to ache… and they’re not the easiest to clean. Buying a fresh pair of kicks every 6 months got pretty expensive pretty quickly. I loved regular Danskos, but they were too tall and I rolled my ankle once a week it seemed like.
But, the heavens opened, and suddenly, the perfect shoe was released: the Work Wonders by Dansko.
They’re cheaper, with a smaller heel, and fit a bit snugger than the originals.
I. love. these.
I’m never wearing another shoe. I don’t have any others to recommend. These are it, guys.
I’ve since switched to the plain black Work Wonders because they go with my blue scrubs better – but they’re both amazing (if you scroll up to my full-length picture in grey scrubs, you can see the black ones on). They have that Dansko-nurse feels to them, but are just more functional because of the shorter heel (I can run to codes or up/downstairs without breaking an ankle) and snugger fit.
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So, normally I would recommend more shoes… but I don’t want to. The only ones that compare to these, in my nurse’s mind, are regular Danskos. They have a higher heel, fit a little more loosely, and are a bit more expensive. Click here to check them out.
I have tried out many compression socks over the years. And I have a new favorite!
They’re from FIGS! FIGS compression socks offer 20-30 mmHg compression, are long enough and sturdy enough to stay put for 12-hours, and I’ve washed them quite a few times since I got them a few months ago and they’ve withstood the washings and have not faded. They come in the pictured cranium pink, grey pills, or a slick black and grey.
My second favorite is Cherokee True Support, they’re not as durable or offer as much support but are a good purchase for the price. They provide 12 mmHg compression. The price may vary depending on where you get them, but they’re about $10.
If you’re looking for thicker socks, Nabee Socks are a great option. They’re a little shorter than the Cherokee and provide 15-20 mmHg compression. They were a bit too short for me, but they are a great option.
(Bonus points: the CEO of the company is a nurse!)
Nurse pro-tip: do not purchase compression sleeves for nurses. While they do provide support and look sharp, they are not made for 12-hour shifts on your feet and do not provide appropriate venous return. They kind of cut off at the ankle and fluid can get trapped down there and you can easily acquire the swelling you were trying to prevent. They are designed for running for a shorter period of time, not for standing and walking for hours on end.
My favorite scopes are from MDF. They’re more affordable than Littmann and have really great sound quality. For around $50 you can get a really high-quality scope (pictured). They are a tad heavy, but I think their sound quality is outstanding… especially at that price point.
They also have a nice rose gold one that looks really sharp but is at slightly a higher price point ($80).
Littmann is also a good option but can become quite expensive. If you’re in school, I would get a $50 MDF scope. I say this because maybe when you graduate, you want to work in pediatrics or the neonatal intensive care unit… and you’d need a different scope for that. Or, maybe you are going to work in a pulmonary critical care unit and you need a really high-quality digital one. When you’re in school, you’re not sure what you’ll do – therefore, get a quality scope that works for most patients to get through school, then reevaluate.
Nurse pro-tip: The $20 scopes are not worth the money. They don’t last as long and just aren’t as good. You really need to spend the extra money to get something worth having. The $50 MDF is the best value with highest quality that I have found.
I’ve tried the Littmann Classic III (about $125) and the Littmann Master Cardiology (about $200) and enjoy them both. I like the Master Cardiology version better because I never use the small size of the diaphragm so I liked the grip on the back of the Master Cardiology better than another listening piece. However, this is a personal preference and what scope you’d need to get depends on what kind they need, as some nurses find this very useful.
Nurse pro-tip: I highly recommend getting the scope engraved for them. People won’t always splurge on that for themselves, but it really helps because people borrow scopes all the time, have very similar ones, or people set them down somewhere and forget about it. At least 5 times I have set mine down and forgotten it, and because I had my name engraved on it, a coworker was able to return it to me later on. I highly recommend getting it engraved!
Want more stethoscopes opinions from a nurse? Check out this blog post from The Nerdy Nurse!
Badge Reels and Accessories
My favorite badge reels, by far, are from Badge Blooms on Etsy. The shop owner is a nurse (score!) and I’ve tried out MANY of her reels and loved ALL OF THEM! Click here to read my full review of the reels, and click here to see my video review (also below). They are cost-effective, durable, high-quality, and there’s quite a variety.
Bonus – a NURSE makes them!
Another item that can be attached to the badge reel is a small Sharpie on a key chain (pictured right). Nurses frequently are in need of a Sharpie for various reasons (signing and dating a wound dressing, marking drainage on a dressing, labeling patient items) and they never stay in your pocket long. Therefore, I highly recommend getting those tiny Sharpies on a keyring. They’re WONDERFUL!
Buy a badge reel, Sharpie pack, and a few penlights and you’ve got a great badge set up!
As a neuro nurse who was frequently using a penlight to look at a patient’s pupils, I’ve tried quite a few penlights. You want one that isn’t too bright and isn’t too dim. I’ve found that most labeled “nurse penlight” or “doctor’s penlight” with pupillary measurements printed on the side are frequently too dim. And I found that a lot of those heavy-duty LED lights were way too bright.
My favorite is one that can be clipped right on your badge reel so that you never lose it and can grab it in an instant. They’re lightweight enough to go on your badge reel and not weigh it down and very affordable.
However, if you want more of a traditional penlight, my favorite penlight is an Energizer Pen Light in Silver. It is a little pricey but worth every penny if you ask me.
Nurse pro-tip: People steal awesome pen lights and stethoscopes all the time. Mark yours with nail polish or something that won’t wash/rub off. That way if someone walks off with your penlight (I’m looking at all of you neurologists and neurosurgeons right now!) it’s clearly yours.
These are the best nurse pens. Buy them. That is all.
Small bag/zipper pouch
I hate having things in my pockets that don’t truly need to be there. Seriously. My scrub pockets only contain my phone, brain sheet, 1 pen, and alcohol swabs. That’s it. My trick is to keep the nonessential but still necessary items in a zipper pouch out at the nurse’s station. This contains my lip balm, a quick snack, backup pens and Sharpies, some essential oils to sniff if I’m dealing with a particularly stinky situation, a phone charger, and so forth.
I’ve used this one for years, but they’re no longer available. However, I’ve seen people use this below one before and it’s sharp. Masculine, feminine and gender-neutral patterns, big enough for your scope, and also looks clean and professional.
Whenever I would go to work, I’d put my purse in my locker and then bring my zippered pouch to the nurse’s station. I like to have a larger one so I can put my stethoscope in it once I’m done with my assessments for the day. These are also helpful when you have to float to another unit away from your break room and locker.
Many people like to have a work-specific bag. That way they’re not emptying everything multiple times a week and keeping your dirty hospital bag to itself and not getting it gross with other stuff. Alright, so my go-to bag is no longer available. However, here is a list of bags I’ve either personally used or ones I’ve seen people use that I think look really sharp.
Herschel Supply Co. Pop Quiz Backpack Multipurpose Backpack – I love this brand. Quality items that look sharp and professional with tons of print options. Fits easily in a locker! Click here to get yours! Pictured below.
My other favorite bag is the Classic LL Bean tote bag. I got my embroidered with my name and got extra long handles. I’ve had it since I graduated from nursing school in 2010! It’s still holding strong. They also always have free shipping – score! Click here to get yours!
Cunada® Women Fashion Hobo Bag Large Tote Shoulder Handbag – a very affordable bag on Amazon that’s a really popular style now. You can fit a water bottle, zipper pouch, and a few more items in there as well. There are some good detailed Amazon reviews that are helpful to check out. I personally love this style of bag. Simple, sophisticated, functional. Pictured below. Click here to get yours!
I would be remiss if I didn’t put the classic nurse work bag on here. This bag isn’t my favorite, but I know a TON of people who love this. It works well because of the various compartments and because it is incredibly easy to clean. I know many nurses who make this tote bag their work bag and I’ve seen them use it day in and day out for years. Again, another one with good Amazon reviews. One person even says, “great bag for a nurse!” – Click here to get yours! Picture below.
Not feeling any of these options? Take a look at this blog post from The Nerdy Nurse, which goes over 7 work bags for nurses with links to purchase.
Most nurses come to work with a water bottle/cup. It’s nice to have a good water bottle/cup that can keep either your water cold for hours or your coffee hot for hours.
A Yeti cup is wonderful but about $40, they’re expensive for a water bottle/cup. The RTIC cup (pictured right) is the cheaper option at about $20. I have this one and simply love it. I can put ice in at the beginning of the day, and the ice is still there and my drink is still cold at the end of the day.
Nurse pro-tip: get a plain Yeti or RTIC cup and purchase a personalized nurse decal from Etsy! Here’s one I got for a nurse bud that she loved!
If you’re not a water cup kinda person, my other favorite water bottle is this one. I’ve left it on a plane TWICE before though (what is wrong with me?)… and always buy a new one because they’re very affordable and of great quality!
So that’s my list and I’m sticking to it!
More product reviews and recommendations for nurses
If you enjoyed this blog post and want to hear about more products I’ve tried, check out these blog posts!