From Sewing Circles to Mentorship Triangles

07 Jun 2023

By: Morgan Hopp, Anjna Kalya and Lily Foster

During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I completed an internship with a private practice plastic surgeon. I learned about surgery, operating rooms, staff interactions, and the inner workings of a private practice.  More importantly, I solidified my understanding of mentorship. The experienced and compassionate office manager’s circuitous life provided many memorable conversations about relationships, especially with a mentor. She believed that a woman’s strength and ensuing success was instilled from the support of other women in their lives. As she pointed out, prior generations had sewing circles that provided three types of women to support the next generation’s values and future: an older woman to give her wisdom and perspective, a woman her own age to give her belonging in the current stage of life, and a younger woman to observe her own growth and contributions to the present world. I realized I had inadvertently stumbled upon my circle in college, but in medical school, I had to actively build it. 

In my first semester of medical school, I felt lost – just like everyone else. By the end of the semester, however, I found a mentor who went out of her way to support me: Dr. Alexzandra Hollingworth. She is an amazing trauma surgeon, a force for positive change in surgical culture and an involved AWS member. She helped me feel more grounded in this journey with our regular check-ins, guaranteed attendance to campus AWS events I co-hosted and research guidance. Second semester I was still struggling and unsure. I leaned on Dr. Hollingworth for support to become my best as a person and medical student. By the summertime, I had engaged a group of high school students and undergraduates who wanted my input about medical school and their future endeavors.

As I built my “sewing circle,” my confidence in all aspects of my life grew. I attribute this professional growth to the personal support which I have renamed: the mentoring triangle. Each of us is equally proud and filled with joy to hear of our mentee’s or mentor’s success while our struggles are reduced because we are not alone. The unique distribution of life stages also limits unintended competitiveness and comparisons. More significantly, the different life stages give a sense of belonging and lineage – looking forward or backwards. I actively participate on multiple AWS committees nationally because AWS facilitates these mentorship opportunities and thus exponentially grows the success of all involved. With time, my success and confidence have  grown exponentially, and my challenges are shared with my triangle. I am proud to contribute to the strength and success of the multi generations of women in my life. The significance of these relationships cannot be expressed by just me, and so these are some thoughts from my mentees: 

“Medical school mentors are able to relay their recent experiences… while conveying applicable advice in a way that feels like guidance rather than instructions. I have received invaluable support from my medical school mentor as I navigate my future in healthcare”
– Anjna Kalya, University of Arizona Undergraduate 2024

“Morgan [med student] helped me learn to communicate with doctors formally and in a professional capacity through email and in person…The relationships between Dr. Rubin, my mentor for hospital volunteer program, and Morgan contrast through our conversations. While Dr. Rubin teaches me about his practice and his journey, Morgan and I talk about new things I will learn in college and how to navigate it. As a mentor, Morgan helps me not only with medical things but with becoming a more well-rounded and independent individual.”
– Lily Foster, Xavier High School 2023

The learning curves of medical school often left me feeling lost and overwhelmed, but mentoring helped remind me how far I have grown and my current capabilities. I strongly encourage other medical students to remember you can mentor and be mentored at the same time. You do not have to be an expert to be helpful as a mentor. Overall, I am a more receptive learner because I am simultaneously a mentee and mentor. My hope for anyone reading this is you find a mentoring triangle and harness its strength as you build your own confidence and success.  


Morgan Hopp is a  MS-3 at Creighton School of Medicine Phoenix Regional Campus, class of 2025. Hopp is an active AWS member serving on both the communications and publications committee. Additionally, she loves research and is involved in multiple surgical outcomes projects at Valleywise Hospital in Phoenix, AZ.

Anjna Kalya grew up in Phoenix and is a rising senior at University of Arizona in Tuscon. She is an amazing pre-med trying to learn about the realities of medical school, not just the admission requirements. Kayla has contributed to some of Hopp’s research at Valleywise Hospital. 

Lily Foster graduated high school this year and is looking forward to college in Chicago in the fall. Foster has actively sought out extra-cirrucular activities to explore medicine. In doing so, she has refined her professionalism skills and fortified her academic confidence.  

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