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3 decades, 2 best friends, 1 inspiring story

It has been said that friends are the family you choose. “Choose” is an interesting word for the story you are about to read, and we’ll tell you why in just a moment. We first met Dr. Erin King-Mullins (@EKing719) through, you guessed it, #MedTwitter. A leading colorectal surgeon in Atlanta, Dr. King-Mullins was an inspiring addition to our Black Women in Medicine blog series. In her feature, she mentioned she had two best friends, both Black women and both in medicine. Once we read that, we immediately had a follow-up blog post in mind: let’s feature these three women and their friendship. The stars aligned when we found out June 8 is National Best Friends Day and a blog post was born. So back to why “choose” is an interesting word for this blog post. With all that these women have in common, and as quickly as their friendship blossomed and deepened over the years, it’s hard to say they chose each other. These three women were not only meant to cross paths, but be an intimate part of one another’s journey. Join us as we jump into 3 decades, 2 best friends, 1 inspiring story.

From sharing the same name to sharing their passion for medicine, Dr. Erin Wright (OB-GYN, @EWrightMD) and Dr. Erin King-Mullins met long before they would earn their MDs. It’s fair to say they found friendship at first sight. Or, perhaps we should say friendship at first sound. Erin K.M. and Erin W. were both sixth graders in Lake Mary, Florida. Standing in line with their mothers to take the SAT through the Duke TIP program, both girls heard “Erin!” in a stern voice. Erin K.M. was perplexed. Who was this woman calling her name? Then she realized the girl in front of her was named Erin also. After talking for a bit, both Erins learned some interesting facts about one another. First, Erin W. had just moved to the area and they went to the same school. Second, their mothers owned almost the exact same car. In fact, Erin K.M. almost got into Erin W.’s car when it was time to leave after taking the SAT! And third, they were born 5 days apart. In the words of Dr. Erin King-Mullins, “The rest is history.” Little did Erin K.M. know that her friendship days were going to become even richer.

Fast forward to ninth grade. Erin K.M.’s beau at the time introduced her to a new classmate named Soyini Hawkins (@SoyiniHawkinsMD). “He thought we would get along and introduced us,” Dr. King-Mullins told us. “She joined the step team with me and we’ve been friends ever since.” Erin K.M. now had two best friends. With all three young women on track to pursue medicine, their lives would become inextricably linked over the course of almost three decades.

Erin Wright and Soyini Hawkins in 1998

That’s right. We said almost three decades. Now why did we say two besties when we are talking about three women? Dr. King-Mullins told us, “It was more so that each of them was my best friend and not necessarily best friends with each other. But we definitely all celebrated each other’s successes.” And there have been so many successes in all of their lives to celebrate, so many memories etched in history and so much love between Dr. King-Mullins and her two best friends. We wanted to know more about her two best friends: what makes each of them special? Is there a secret to lasting friendships? And you know we just had to ask for some throwback pictures, too!

What drew you close to Erin and Soyini?

Dr. King-Mullins told us, “Erin was like-minded and driven, also wanting to be a doctor. We both had single moms and had to travel between households so it was like we were sisters as well. She was an only child and all my siblings were much older, so it was almost like I was an only child as well. Erin brings logic and reason to my emotionally driven actions and responses. She’s quite caring, too!” And Soyini? “Soyini was a little bit of a trailblazer for me. Because she was 1 year older, she had what seemed like a decade's worth of experience ahead of me when we met in high school. We both wanted to be doctors and had other similar interests in music and dance. Her mom's succulent Jamaican dishes also helped!” Dr. King-Mullins shared. “She is deeply nurturing and caring like a big sister, or sometimes even a mother (not in a nagging bad way).”

How have your best friends supported you over the years?

“Soyini helped bring me into the fold at Xavier, where we attended college. We were roommates while attending medical school in Atlanta. When I was in my final year of residency and she was getting her MPH at Tulane, she helped bring me through my lowest of lows. Now we support each other in surgery! Erin has been that steady rock from the beginning. With the exception of college graduation (we were hundreds of miles apart graduating within 24 hrs of each other), I can’t recall any major life event that she hasn’t been a part of,” Dr. King-Mullins said.

About Dr. King-Mullins, Dr. Soyini Hawkins (Minimally Invasive Gynecology) told us, “Erin’s support over the years has surpassed that of a friend and is more consistent with a sister’s. I mean we bought our first house together! She has been present for all of my pivotal transitions, from graduations to marriage, motherhood and even loss. She has traveled with me on crazy adventures to my home country of Jamaica and her family has taken me in as their own as has mine for her.”

Dr. Erin King-Mullins and Dr. Soyini Hawkins in 2018

Dr. Wright said, “Erin and I have been friends for almost 28 years. A lot happens during that amount of time. There have been numerous joys and successes as well as personal and professional crises. We have mutually been supportive of each other throughout all of these situations in various ways. Having a best friend who understands that sometimes all I need is for her to listen while I vent, while at other times I could use some advice or just a few words of encouragement is invaluable. It means a lot to have someone to confide in, divulge your biggest secrets and fears without judgment or dismay, or simply provide comfort and reassurance. Erin’s favorite TV show is The Golden Girls and I’m thankful that she has been my “pal and confidant” for so many years!”

Dr. Erin Wright and Dr. Erin King-Mullins in 2018

Did you go through any tough times together when your friendship was tested?

“No arguments or fights but mostly just life. Distance, different stages in careers and family life each create different needs at different times. And residency?! It’s amazing that anything survives that beast,” said Dr. King-Mullins. Dr. Hawkins recalled, “We were separated for a few years but fate had us find each other in each other’s backyards again, and we picked up right where we left off.” Dr. Wright told us, “Naturally, all relationships ebb and flow and friendships are no different. I can’t think of specific times when our friendship was tested, but there were definitely periods where our paths began to diverge as we matured and our friendship has evolved over the years. What we used to talk about, share, or experience as adolescents is very different from what we talk about, share, or experience now as adults.”

What are some fun memories you have together?

“Erin and I took a tour of Spain in the 10th grade with our Spanish class. Our Spanish teacher didn’t know as much Spanish as we thought! Thankfully, a group of students from Minnesota was on the same tour and their teachers helped us navigate. I will always remember the way Erin and I both simultaneously burst into tears when I found my wedding dress. They say you know it's THE dress when you cry and we really did!

Erin W. and Erin K.M. in Spain circa 1998

With Soyini, I have so many fun memories of being on the step team in high school and creating the routines. Then there are our travels to Jamaica to visit her family. Of course, operating together. Our first surgery together was 13 hours long!” Dr. King-Mullins said.

Dr. Hawkins reminisced about their travels. “In Jamaica when I took Erin home with me she always got sick on the drive up the mountains. She was obviously a sucker for pain and kept coming back. On our last trip during college, we booked a local hotel that felt like a hostel and partied with the locals like we didn’t have a care in the world. It was scary and fun at the same time, and totally worth the memories of doing it with her.”

Erin K.M. and Erin W. - Senior year of high school, 2000

“So many memories!” Dr. Wright recalled. “Some of my favorite and most fun memories with Erin are just being kids and hanging out at each other’s house, homecomings, proms, double date nights in high school, going to Spain on a high school trip, my 16th birthday at my dad’s house, our first cars, and going on a cruise to celebrate our high school graduation. Of course, it has always been fun celebrating each other’s successes and many other graduations over the years, but it was exceptionally fun being attending physicians in the same hospital when I lived in Atlanta. We would meet for lunch occasionally and I cannot even describe the pride I felt reflecting on how far we’d come from our middle school days to being amazing doctors in the same hospital. Erin’s wedding, bridal shower, and bachelorette party a few years ago definitely created some fun memories as well! Most recently, fun memories include watching Erin embrace her role as the mother of my goddaughter! Now I get to make memories with the two of them and I absolutely love it!”

Dr. Soyini Hawkins and Dr. Erin King-Mullins operating in 2021

What is the secret to lasting friendships?

“Stay true to yourself. Each person has strengths and weaknesses, and they should complement each other,” answered Dr. King-Mullins. Dr. Hawkins gave it to us straight, “Support and honesty PERIOD!” Dr. Wright stated, “It’s all about the effort that you both make with regards to fostering the friendship. It is easy when you’re growing up to maintain friendships because you are usually in close proximity and spend a lot of time together. You are also more likely to be going through similar life experiences at the same time. It becomes tremendously harder as you age because distance often becomes a factor and in general, life events begin occurring at different times. Additionally, the trust, security, love, and support that is established early on during the friendship becomes the foundation that, if strong enough, is able to withstand time. Trust cannot be underestimated, even in a friendship, and is essential to a lasting friendship. Lastly, just like any other relationship in your life, friendships require attention and nurturing, maybe in different ways, but they still require a degree of being intentional.”

Our sincerest “Thank You” goes out to Dr. Erin King-Mullins, Dr. Erin Wright and Dr. Soyini Hawkins for taking the time to share with us the beauty and treasures of friendship.

Dr. Soyini Hawkins, Dr. Erin King-Mullins and Dr. Erin Wright

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