Stuff Nurses Need: Expert Buying Advice From An Experienced RN

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Nurse Products & Reviews, New Nurse | 5 comments

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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 stuff nurses need

If you just want my favorite thing of each category, here it is! We’ll go through each in detail with alternative options in the post below.

  1. Good scrubs – this includes a top, bottom, undershirt and/or jacket
  2. Good shoes – ones you can wear for hours and clean easily
  3. Compression socks – not so loose they fall down, but not too tight
  4. Stethoscope – don’t get the cheapest or the most expensive
  5. Badge reels – a solid one that will last, plus a few backups
  6. Keychain Sharpie
  7. Keychain penlight
  8. Pens
  9. Larger work bag – bring food, wallet, water bottle, and more that stays in your locker
  10. Smaller zip bag(s) – a small bag you bring to the RN station with essentials
  11. Water bottle or a water cup

Alright, here we go!

I believe nurses should wear scrubs that fit them but aren’t too tight or 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, Grey’s 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

FIGS are by far my favorite. They last for a long time and 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 always wear. I highly recommend getting on their email list because they frequently email out discount codes.

Prosreally 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.

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Casma three-pocket scrub top with Livingston pants (tall) in graphite and Work Wonders by Dansko shoes

Click here to order FIGS! 

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#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, and the pockets are not as sturdy

In the photo below, I am wearing the Jockey 3-in-1 Modern Convertible scrub pants with the Jockey Classic Mock Wrap scrub top.

stuff nurses need: nurse in blue scrubs holding coffee

#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.

In the photo below, I am wearing the Cherokee Infinity Round Neck Scrub Top and the Cherokee Infinity Low-Rise Slim Fit Scrub Pant. I also enjoy the Drawstring Cargo Pant as well.

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Me in the Infinity Antimicrobial Round Neck Scrub Top + Matching Low Rise Slim-Fit Scrub Pants

#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 for me. 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 heavy. No yoga-pant waistband.

My preferred top is the Grey’s Anatomy Cross Over Tunic Scrub Top, and my preferred pant is the Signature Olivia 5-Pocket Cargo Scrub Pant.

REPORT

Undershirts and Scrub Jackets

Every single shift, I wear a shirt under my scrubs. I now wear a long-sleeved 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.

I tend to get cold, so scrub jackets are definitely a must for more.

FIGS is a great option, although it’s quite expensive. Cherokee has a great cheap option that is more like your traditional scrub material and has a looser fit. If you’re going for more of a more athletic and slimmer fit, here’s another Cherokee option (iFlex).

Lab Coats

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. Here’s another very cost-effective option.

And (you know this is coming…), of course, FIGS. Again, it is the most expensive but definitely the sharpest and highest quality. I used this for my MSN practicum. However, this is literally the only time I’ve used it.

My advice for lab coats: If you only use it a few times, get the cheapest one that looks the most presentable. Do NOT spend $80-$100 on a lab coat you’ll wear 6-10x. If you are going to wear one daily (nurse practitioners, for example), then invest in a nice one that will stand the test of time.

Stuff Nurses Need: Quality Shoes

Please heed my experienced RN advice: Invest in good shoes.

At the beginning of my career, I did not do this. I got cute shoes that were difficult to clean and didn’t last long. After about 7-9 hours on my feet, my shins and feet would hurt. While I liked how they looked, they just didn’t have enough support. I found myself buying new shoes every 3-4 months, which got pretty expensive.

Currently, the top shoe brands for nurses with a few unique features are below. Please note that I am not including any prices, as these can fluctuate. I have not personally worn most of these, so I’m summarizing the reviews.

  1. Gales – Cleans easily and slip-on but lacks ankle support.
  2. FIGS & New Balance – Thick sole, which provides ample support, looks stylish, but does not clean easily/isn’t waterproof. These run small and some customers say they are more rigid than previous pairs of NB’s, while others say they’re 10/10 comfortable.
  3. Asics Novablast – These are traditional running shoes but with a very thick sole, so they provide great support. Long laces that need to be secured, or you’ll find yourself re-tying them often.
  4. Bala – I own 2 pairs of these. Easy to clean, shorter/manageable laces, and phenomenal support. I love these!
  5. Crocs – These are the most cost-effective and easily cleaned. I personally could not wear them for 10+ hours without shin pain and found them difficult to run in, but some people just adore their crocs.
  6. Dansko Classic – I wore these for quite a while. They take time to get used to, are difficult to run in, and kind of tall, but my goodness they were good. One pair lasted me years and I had no leg or foot pain, and they were a breeze to clean. I did roll my ankle a few times too!

Stuff Nurses Need: Compression Socks 🧦

If you work 10+ hours at a time, I highly recommend these socks. They will increase venous return, reduce swelling, prevent varicose veins, reduce your DVT risk from prolonged sitting and/or standing, and reduce fatigue in your legs.

One thing to be aware of when buying compression socks is the compression level.

Mild compression is about 8-15 mmHg. This is minimal and good for everyday use. I have a few pairs of this level, and while they help a bit, it’s not very much compression at all. I use these for long road trips rather than standing all day. This will help somewhat with edema and fatigue, but that’s about where the benefits end.

If you are standing all day and running around a nursing unit, you likely need to level up your compression to moderate (15-20 mmHg). This level will prevent varicose veins and prevent fatigue and swelling.

When we’re talking 30+ mmHg, we’re talking pretty firm compression that is difficult to apply and remove. Only wear these if you truly need to. Prescription-level compression is about 40-50 mmHg, and people who suffer from lymphedema, severe venous status, and who are post-sclerotherapy would need this much.

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My favorite are from FIGS!  FIGS compression socks. I’ve had multiple pairs, and they are my go-to. I believe they provide 20-30 mmHg, but please don’t quote me on that. It used to be listed on their product description but it isn’t anymore. I’ve washed mine many times, and they’ve withstood the test of time.

Another cost-effective option is from Cherokee. They’re not as durable or offer as much support and fall into my category of more of a road-trip level of compression. However, if you don’t need much or want some that are super easy to put on, these are great!

Finally, a very popular option right now is Charmking. They are cost-effective, have thousands of positive Amazon reviews, and provide 15-20 mmHg of compression. I personally have not worn them, but they look like a solid selection.

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 Honest Expert Stethoscope 🩺 Opinion

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.  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.

If you’re in school, I would get a cost-effective MDF scope or a basic Littmann scope.  

From my experience, a basic stethoscope is sufficient in nursing school. If you decide to work pediatrics, you’ll need a different stethoscope. Or, if you work in an adult pulmonary ICU, you’ll probably want a high-quality digital one.

A good stethoscope is a great graduation gift for a nursing student!

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  and the Littmann Master Cardiology 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.

While I liked both of these high-quality Littmann scopes, they aren’t even close to how much I absolutely LOVE my digital stethoscope. I have a full review on digital scopes here if you’re interested. I think they are worth every cent and they’ve been my top scope for the last 2 years.

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 stethoscope opinions from a nurse? Check out this blog post from The Nerdy Nurse!

Nurse Badge Reel and Badge Accessories

Badge reels are a fun way to personalize your scrubs. These do not need to be expensive or flashy, but you definitely need a retractable one that clips easily to your scrubs. I personally like the claw/alligator clip rather than a button or belt clip but to each your own!

They shouldn’t cost much at all, especially if they’re plain.

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Another item that can be attached to the badge reel is a small Sharpie on a key chain (pictured right). Nurses frequently need 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!

To complete my ideal badge reel set-up, top it off with a keychain flashlight. This will be your penlight! I can’t tell you how many neurosurgeons I impressed when they wanted to check pupils at the bedside and I immediately popped off my badge reel and handed it to them. No rummaging through pockets or searching in drawers! Just make sure to get a new one when the light starts to dim.

And if you are a neuro ICU RN and really want a real heavy-duty penlight, here’s what I used for years.

Stuff Nurses Need: The Best Pens. Duh.

These are the best nurse pens. Buy them. That is all.

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Nurse Work Bags and Accessories

Many people like to have a work-specific bag to avoid mixing work and home.

My current favorite bags are below:

  1. Coowooz travel bookbag: This has a ton of pocket and storage. It is cost-effective, cute, and comes in a bunch of colors. It’s got a ton of room and even an insulated pocket! I put my lunch in there with a flat cooler and then when I get to the breakroom, I just take my lunch out and put it directly in the fridge – no lunchbox required!
  2. Classic LL Bean tote bag: This is great because it will last for years (I’ve had mine since 2010!), and you can throw it in the wash PRN. The top is open so you can just toss things in there with ease (or get a zip-top if you’d like to be able to close it). However, there are no smaller pockets. It’s a bag you dump your stuff in and go. My pro tip is to definitely get the extra long handles if you live in a colder climate so the strap fit over your winter coat with ease. I have a medium, large, and extra-large one. The medium is simply too small for nurse-work purposes IMHO, and the extra-large is a critical part of my mom’s life (great pool bag!), which makes the large a great size to take to the hospital.
  3. Clear small zip bags: I like these in my bag to separate things and keep them organized, but I am also able to see what’s inside quickly. I have one packed with snacks (protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, gum) one with personal items like ibuprofen, lip balm (Vasaline is my fave), hand lotion, nail clipper/file, and baby wipes, and a third with nurse stuff (alcohol wipes, flushes, sharpies). Bonus points for them being TSA-approved! Another option would be to have one bag with a little of all three and just bring that one to the RN station and simply leave your backpack in your locker.

I have also tried the more traditional nurse tote bags as well. I tried a few, but found this one to be the best. It’s priced appropriately, sturdy but flexible, and has longer straps. I think these nurse totes are best for:

  • People working in home health who are also carrying nursing supplies
  • People who want to have their bag next to them at the nurse’s station with fast access to all of their pens, highlighters, and all that jazz

I am personally more of a back-pack person who only brought out the essentials to the nursing station in a zip pouch or nice make-up type bag. Having your essentials in a smaller bag is helpful whenever you float to other units as well so you don’t have to find a place to store your larger bag and keep an eye on it.

Nurse Water Bottles and Cups

Most nurses come to work with a water bottle or cup. It’s nice to have a good water bottle or cup that keeps your water cold for hours or your coffee hot for hours. You want one that’s bigger so you’re not having to refill it every 2-3 hours, but not one that’s so big that it’s difficult to carry.

Water cups tend to have a handle and a straw. While these are cute and you can drink from them quickly, the negative is that you can’t just throw them in a bag or your car because they will spill.

On the other hand, you can select a water bottle. These will have a lid that must be removed when you take a drink, but are less prone to spill and don’t have to be carried separately from your bag or sit in a cup holder in your car.

Here are some popular options!

  1. Stanley cup with handle and straw. These are VERY popular right now, at a high price point, and have a straw.
  2. Yeti cup with handle and straw. Very effective at keeping drinks hot/cold, but at a high price point.
  3. Stanley cup with handle and straw knock-off. If you can’t bring yourself to spend that much on a water bottle, here’s a similar one with phenomenal reviews.
  4. Yeti water bottle with lid. Ok, I love this one. One of the gripes with water bottles is that getting ice into them can be painful because they tend to have smaller openings at the top. This has a large screw-off top to load with ice and water and then a separate one to drink from. I died a small death when I realized I left this one at an Airbnb last year.
  5. Nalgene classic water bottle with lid. This has a fast flip-off lid and is very cost-effective. I’ve had. a few of these in my life!
  6. Hydroflask water bottle. I’m literally drinking from this one right now. It’s large enough, so I don’t need to refill it more than twice. It’s durable, it keeps my water cold, and I can toss it in my bag or car.

If you like water bottles, I would recommend getting a car cup holder extender for them to fit into. I bought on

More Nursing Product Reviews

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to hear about more products I’ve tried, check out these blog posts!

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Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

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5 Comments

  1. Autumn

    Hi! As a fellow tall girl I struggle with finding long enough tops. I typically wear figs and they are probably the longest of all scrubs I’ve tried but I still wear the Infinity underscrub to prevent flashing, but it gets really warm! Have you ever found a longer scrub top?

    Reply
    • FreshRN Team

      Autumn, I also had good luck with Jockey and Cherokee Infinity. I did wear an undershirt with the Cherokee as I needed the extra layer for my skin, not for fit. Both of those brands were long enough on me that I didn’t have to wear an undershirt to prevent flashing.

      Reply
  2. Paige Bolding

    I love healing hands scrubs! They are anti wrinkles and very soft. I’m tall and slim. I like that my scrubs have ties so my pants won’t fall off of me. The ties can be tied inside the scrubs or outside based on your preference and you can change it around when you’d like to. I also like my HOKA tennis shoes. Unfortunately they aren’t water proof but a nice water proofing spray does the trick. I went to Fleet Feet to find the perfect tennis shoes for my very arched feet. I love the sharpie brand pens. I loved this article. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Bear

    For footwear, I have two I prefer as they are multi-purpose. 1. The Moab 2 by Merrell, in the 8″ Tactical Boot version. One reason I like these is they are waterproof, so easy to just rinse off any urine/feces/emesis/blood/etc. Another reason I like them is I ride a motorcycle and they do well doubling as a motorcycle boot so I don’t have to bring extra shoes to work, nor give up safety on the bike.

    My other go to shoe is the Salomon XA Pro 3D. They are a trail running shoe, but I’ve found them to be an awesome all-rounder. They also come in a waterproof (GTX) version. Unfortunately, the 2019 design was better than the 2021 design, I wish I had bought more than just two pairs back then.

    Reply
  4. Jeep Diva Blog

    Thanks for sharing your insights on the must-have items for nurses! As a fellow RN, I completely agree with your picks. The gel pads for comfortable documentation and the versatile scrubs for easy dressing are absolute game-changers. I also appreciate the tips on where to buy the best quality products at affordable prices. Keep up the great work!

    Reply

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