What is an RRT Nurse: Rapid Response Nurse Defined

by | May 9, 2024 | Nursing Jobs & Interviews | 0 comments

Have you ever wondered what happens in a hospital when a patient’s condition takes a sudden turn for the worse? Enter the RRT nurse, also known as a rapid response nurse. These highly skilled critical care specialists are the unsung heroes working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure patient safety.

This article dives deep into the world of emergency responses and explains: what is an RRT nurse? We’ll explore their role, responsibilities, and the vital impact they have on patient care. So buckle up and get ready to learn about these essential members of the healthcare team!

what is an rrt nurse

RRT Nurse Definition: What is an RRT Nurse?

An RRT Nurse, or Rapid Response Nurse, is a specialized healthcare professional trained to intervene swiftly during medical emergencies outside the intensive care unit (ICU). Their primary responsibility is to respond promptly to calls for assistance from other healthcare providers, patients, or family members when a patient’s condition deteriorates unexpectedly on a general hospital ward.

RRT nurses are often called upon to respond to situations such as cardiac arrests, respiratory distress, or other critical events where rapid intervention is necessary.

Why are RRT Nurses Important?

RRT nurses play a critical role in patient safety. By intervening early, they can potentially prevent serious complications, improve patient outcomes, and even save lives. They also act as a valuable resource for other nurses, providing support and expertise in managing deteriorating patients.

The impact of rapid response team interventions on patient outcomes varies, but many studies support their role in reducing hospital deaths and cardiac arrests. To ensure effective response measures, there’s a call for a standardized method for setting up and operating rapid response teams, according to the evidence.

Criteria for Calling the RR Team

According to the AHRQ, any staff member can request the team’s assistance if they observe any of the following:

  • Heart rate exceeding 140 beats per minute or dropping below 40 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate surpassing 28 breaths per minute or falling under 8 breaths per minute
  • Systolic blood pressure higher than 180 mmHg or lower than 90 mmHg
  • Oxygen saturation dropping below 90% despite supplemental oxygen
  • Acute change in mental status
  • Urine output less than 50 cc over a 4-hour period
  • Staff member expressing significant concern about the patient’s condition

Additional criteria utilized in some institutions may include:

  • Chest pain not relieved by nitroglycerin
  • Threatened airway
  • Seizure activity
  • Uncontrolled pain

Tasks of a Rapid Response Nurse

  • Timely Assessment and Intervention: RRT Nurses are trained to assess patients quickly and accurately in emergencies. They possess advanced clinical skills that enable them to identify signs of deterioration or impending crises. Sometimes, this might involve transferring the patient to the ICU for closer monitoring. Other times, the RRT nurse can intervene and prevent the need for an ICU admission altogether. The RR nurse is accountable for addressing all rapid response situations and codes, which include instances indicating sepsis, STEMI (acute heart attacks), strokes, and significant blood transfusions.
  • Critical Thinking and Decision-making: When called upon, RRT Nurses must employ critical thinking skills to make rapid decisions regarding appropriate interventions. This often involves coordinating with a multidisciplinary team to develop and implement a plan of action tailored to the patient’s needs.
  • Education and Training: RRT Nurses undergo extensive training to hone their clinical skills and knowledge. They stay updated on the latest evidence-based practices and participate in ongoing education to enhance their proficiency in managing emergency situations. Additionally, they can provide education to the nurses on the floor when called for a consultation about critical care for a patient. 
  • Advocacy and Support: Beyond their clinical duties, RRT Nurses advocate for patients, ensuring their voices and needs are heard. They also support and guide bedside nurses and other healthcare providers, fostering a collaborative approach to patient care.
  • Documentation and Follow-up: RRT Nurses meticulously document their interventions and communicate relevant information to the patient’s primary care team. They also follow up on patients after the crisis has been resolved to monitor their progress and prevent future occurrences.

Rapid Response Teams

An RRT, or Rapid Response Team, is a multidisciplinary group of healthcare professionals specifically trained to respond to deteriorating patient conditions outside the ICU. It’s like a hospital’s “A-Team,” assembled to assess and stabilize a critical situation.

The team composition can vary depending on the hospital, but it typically includes:

  • RRT Nurse: As discussed earlier, this highly skilled nurse is often the first responder and plays a central role in assessment and initial stabilization.
  • Advanced Practice Provider (PA or APRN or hospitalist): An attending physician or a specialist trained in critical care joins the team to evaluate the situation and determine the best course of treatment.
  • Respiratory Therapist: This specialist can assist with airway management and oxygenation if needed.

While the RRT team represents the combined expertise of different disciplines, the RRT nurse acts as the eyes and ears on the ground. They are often alerted by bedside nurses who notice a patient’s condition worsening. The nurse has to perform the following:

  • Respond rapidly to the patient’s location.
  • Assess the patient’s vital signs and overall clinical picture.
  • Initiate stabilization measures like oxygen therapy or medication administration based on protocols.
  • Communicate effectively with the physician and other team members to provide a clear picture of the situation.

Barriers That Impede The Activation of RR Teams

The ability to recognize and start life-saving actions relies greatly on the skills, expertise, and experiences of the nurse caring directly for the patient at the bedside.

Obstacles to RRT nurses’ actions include the bedside nurse’s ability to detect patient decline and trigger rapid response systems, the bedside nurse’s clinical decision-making, teamwork among different healthcare disciplines, and the culture within the organization, according to research

The causes of the inconsistent effects of RRTs are intricate, sometimes linked to local practices and cultural factors leading to underutilization of the team.

The Role of the Bedside Nurse During an RRT Nurse Call

The role of the bedside nurse during a rapid response call is crucial in the timely and efficient management of patients experiencing clinical deterioration. It’s so important for nurses to understand their responsibilities and take prompt action to ensure that patients receive the necessary interventions to prevent further complications.

The ambiguity surrounding the role of the bedside nurse during a rapid response call can lead to delays in treatment, putting patients at risk. By implementing clear recommendations for nurses in these situations, healthcare organizations can enhance patient safety and outcomes.

If you would like to learn more about this matter, listen to my podcast episode When Nurses Should Call the Rapid Response Team

A common mistake of the bedside nurse during an RRT call is to step back and let the RRT nurse take over. The bedside nurse must remain involved, as the medical team may have questions only the patient’s primary nurse can answer. Don’t leave the room to care for other patients once the team arrives, even if you’re behind!

Becoming an RRT Nurse

Becoming an RRT nurse typically requires earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, obtaining licensure as a registered nurse (RN), and gaining experience working in critical care settings. You can also have your ADN degree, however many hospitals are moving to requiring the BSN degree for leadership positions, such as the RRT nurse role.

Additionally, many RRT nurses pursue certification through organizations like the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) or the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).

Salary of RRT Nurses

The salary of an RRT nurse can vary depending on several factors, including:

  • Experience: Nurses with more experience in critical care settings typically command higher salaries.
  • Location: Cost of living plays a role, with nurses in urban areas often earning more than those in rural areas.
  • Facility Type: Hospitals, especially large teaching hospitals, may offer higher salaries compared to smaller facilities or clinics.
  • Employer: Unionized nurses or those working for government institutions might have different salary structures and benefits.

According to Glassdoor, Emergency Room (ER) nurses can earn annual salaries ranging from $83,000 to $127,000. However, there is not a distinction listed for rapid response nurses. This is because it is such a small subspecialty. Often, the RRT nurse role is performed by an ICU or an ED nurse. Some hospitals have nurses who are dedicated RRT nurses, however this would be a very small team of nurses rather than an entire unit.

Continuing Education

Continuing education requirements may also be necessary to maintain certification and stay current on best practices in critical care nursing. Some hospitals may also require additional training specific to rapid response teams, such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).

Other general rapid response and critical care resources of interest are:

  • This course in Advanced Airway Management for Nurses. 
  • The Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM): Provides access to a vast library of educational resources, including webinars, conferences, and online modules.
  • Emergency Nurses Association (ENA): Provides more valuable information about this specialty. 

Also, there is a book from the Oxford Academy that you can read: Rapid Response System: A Practical Guide.

Remember: This is not an exhaustive list, and many other organizations offer CE courses for RRT nurses. Explore options based on your specific interests and renewal requirements.

Additional Tips

  • Consider attending conferences and workshops specifically designed for RRT nurses.
  • Look for hands-on simulation training courses to hone your critical care skills.
  • Many hospitals offer internal CE programs tailored to their specific RRT protocols.

RRT nurses are the silent heroes of the hospital, working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure patient safety. Their quick thinking and critical care skills make them vital to any healthcare team.

As fellow nurses and healthcare professionals, let us recognize and appreciate the vital contributions of RRT nurses in safeguarding the well-being of our patients and communities.

More Resources

  1. What Do Nurse Anesthetists Do? (CRNA)
  2. Types of Nursing Jobs and Where to Find Them: A Comprehensive Guide for New Graduate Nurses
  3. What Do Emergency Nurses Do?
Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

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.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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