In this retrospective cohort study we sought to evaluate the association between the etiology and timing of rapid response team (RRT) activations in postoperative patients at a tertiary care hospital in the southeastern United States. From 2010 to 2016, there were 2,390 adult surgical inpatients with RRT activations within seven days of surgery. Using multivariable linear regression, we modeled the correlation between etiology of RRT and timing of the RRT call, as measured from the conclusion of the surgical procedure. We found that respiratory triggers were associated with an increase in time after surgical procedure to RRT of 10.6 h compared to activations due to general concern (95% CI 3.9 – 17.3) (p = 0.002). These findings may have an impact on monitoring of postoperative patients, as well as focusing interventions to better respond to clinically deteriorating patients.