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Montreal paediatricians use Amazing Race to start amazing cause

Posted on September 30, 2013 by the Canadian Paediatric Society | Permalink

Topic(s): Membership

Paediatricians Dr. Holly Agostino and Dr. Brett Burstein are professional problem solvers, used to managing stress and dealing with little sleep on a regular basis—all skills that proved useful when competing together on the Amazing Race Canada, which aired this past summer on CTV.

“I think you see that when we’re out of our element in terms of building a raft, or putting together a dinosaur model,” said Dr. Burstein in a recent interview.  “Those things really relied on problem solving under stress, and I think that and our communication…are strengths we got from our medical training.”

The pair is also married, and both work at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Avid fans of reality TV, they decided to audition because they love to travel but have not seen much of Canada.

The Amazing Race Canada provided an opportunity to see what Canada has to offer. The show, modelled after the original U.S. series, has nine teams in a race criss-crossing the country, covering up to 9,000 kilometres. Teams must find clues and complete challenges in order to advance. The last team to complete a challenge may be eliminated. The winning team wins a lucrative prize package, including cash and two new cars.

Dr. Agostino and Dr. Burstein were chosen out of 20,000 applicants to appear on the first season of the show. They were eliminated in episode seven, which took the teams to Iqaluit, Nunavut.

During their time on the race, Dr. Agostino and Dr. Burstein were impressed at Canada’s diversity. They found Canada’s North particularly spectacular, and were also amazed by hoodoos, the large sandstone pillars, which dot the landscape in Drumheller, Alta.

It’s “Canada’s own Grand Canyon that we basically had never heard of before. To be there was absolutely incredible,” said Dr. Burstein.

Participating in the show also provided an opportunity for them to give back to the hospital.  They’re dedicating 25 per cent of their winnings from the show to the MCH foundation.

“We offer great services with what we have, but it’s tight, it’s very difficult, not even so much for the physicians, but for all the critical support staff that we work with: nursing, dieticians, pharmacy, social work. There’s just so many (who) are feeling the economic crunch. And … you never want that to translate to compromising patient care,” said Dr. Burstein.

Once they got back to Montreal, they also set up the website,, featuring behind-the-scenes commentary on each episode and providing a platform for visitors to contribute to the hospital’s foundation. collected more than $21,000 in donations during the show’s first season. After the season finale, this money was added to Dr. Agostino and Dr. Burstein’s contribution and given to the hospital’s foundation.

“[The hospital] also feels like our second family, right? So when your family’s struggling, you’d want to help them out and that’s kind of how we felt here, too. It’s our home away from home,” said Dr. Agostino.

During the race, the drive to give back kept them focused; a task that was not always easy.

Tensions sometimes ran high, between the challenging nature of some tasks they had to complete, and the constant interaction with, and need to strategize against, other teams.

“The psychological, social time and competitive constraints of the game, feel like writing your board exams, all day, every day for an entire month,” said Dr. Burstein.

“[Like] a board exam on things you have not studied, and having no clue how you’re going to do them,” added Dr. Agostino.

Some of the challenges they had to do include completing an underwater dive, doing football and cheerleading drills, building a raft and performing a complicated line dancing routine.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how well you perform on the task. But, at the same time, if people are rooting to get rid of you, that adds to everything,” said Dr. Agostino.

Despite the intensity of the game, Dr. Agostino and Dr. Burstein still consider their race an amazing experience, which took them to eight different provinces and territories.

“We were blown away with the diversity and the breathtaking beauty of the Carcross Desert in the Yukon,” said Dr. Burstein. “Iqaluit holds a bit of a special place in our hearts as well. It’s another one of the remote regions few people will really go to, and we’ve interacted with a lot of patients that come from there.”

Their next travel destination will be Asia, a trip they won for completing leg two of the race. Ironically, their cover story for being away during filming was that they were on a trip to China, said Dr. Burstein. Due to strict confidentiality laws surrounding the application process and filming, they were not able to tell anyone they had been selected to appear on the show.

“It was filmed in May, and then we had to go back and basically not tell a single person that we were in the race or gone for that reason. Now that it’s [been] on, people have been very supportive…despite sometimes we might cringe….it’s all just positive reinforcement the whole way through,” said Dr. Agostino.

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Last updated: Oct 1, 2013