I have a friend at work that went from respiratory therapist to DBA and his wife is a nurse of decades who just finished her BS. I think he might have a unique perspective. I've asked him to pass along some input.
I think Nursing may be the better choice, primarily because they have a better lobby with the government (they make more money). Respiratory Therapists (RT) donít have as much face time with the patients, as they have to cover a large portion of the hospital. RTs walk\stand\run constantly. Even in intensive care, you may have 5 ventilator patients to take care of (and they donít talk). The nurseís patients are in a single area, and there are chairs. Nurses have more patient\family contact. RTís are focused on the more critical patients, so their time must be much more divided. Plus, the RT can do some unpleasant things to the patients, so they are not always happy to see them. I went for months where my only break was the elevator ride between floors (I rode the elevator up, and took the stairs down).
There are rules for the minimum number of nurses in a hospital, but none for Respiratory Therapists. Some hospitals have eliminated all respiratory therapists. Most hospitals are requiring Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to be hired, which is a full 4 years. There are online nursing programs, but most are for RNís that need to get their BSN to keep their job (Diana was one).
There are 2 year respiratory therapy programs Certified Respiratory Therapy Technician (CRTT), but the pay is not very good. The Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) is the preferred way to go, but most are going to a bachelorís degree programs (at least the good schools).
The one positive about RT is when the patient poops themself, you can leave the room until it is cleaned up (the nurses have to clean it up). The rooms of respiratory patients generally smell better.