Celebrating the stethoscope...how doctors learned to see with their ears

The stethoscope is the badge of the doctor for the very good reason that it enables them to ‘see’ inside the chest. But of course the seeing is done by listening: the doctors hears your heart beating and your lungs expanding and contracting, and interprets their sounds to come to a diagnosis.

Doctors didn’t always have this skill, nor this instrument. In fact it was invented just 200 years ago, and we in Leeds are celebrating its bicentenary. What the inventor, RenĂ© Laennec, produced was very different from the stethoscopes of today. He devised a rigid wooden cylinder which was necessarily monaural. Yet Laennec’s device was enough to make the interior of the living body no longer mysterious but capable of being visualised.

The University has a Laennec-pattern stethoscope (one of very few in the world), and we will be using this to commemorate Laennec’s remarkable breakthrough through a series of events and activities.

You can read more about these on our web pages.

Jacalyn Duffin - The Invention of the Stethoscope and the Birth of Physical Diagnosis. Watch Jacalyn's brilliant talk given at the University of Leeds on 14 March 2017.