Optometry students co-host ‘Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate’ podcast

Fourth-year UMSL College of Optometry students Rachel Simpson (left) and Kate Hamm host the “Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate” podcast on Defocus Media. (Photo by Allison Guindon)

Kate Hamm was just a few days away from heading off to the 2018 Optometry’s Meeting in Denver in June, and podcast partner Rachel Simpson had some homework assignments for her.

Hamm and Simpson, fourth-year College of Optometry students at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, have been co-hosts of the eponymously named “Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate” podcast since March. Hamm was to do most of the heavy lifting for their eighth episode, a chronicle of her time at the annual gathering of thousands of optometrists and optometry students from around the country, and Simpson presented her manifesto of goals for Hamm at the conference.

A picture of an object that is “not glasses, but shaped like them.” A recording of a doctor recommending a song for the summer: “If they give you a song that didn’t come out in 2018, by God, it will not count.” A high-five from a mascot with an oversized head, with proper documentation to prove it. A picture of comedian and TV host Howie Mandel, who provided the entertainment at the meeting’s Saturday night soiree.

“I really want to touch him. But I know I can’t, because he’s afraid of germs,” Hamm said.

“Don’t touch him. If you touch him, you get no prize,” Simpson responded.

This sort of chemistry and easy repartee is the reason Defocus Media, an optometry-based media and marketing company, added “Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate” as one of its earliest podcasts. The company’s founders, Jennifer Lyerly and Darryl Glover, had Hamm and Simpson on as guests on their podcast last summer.

They didn’t know what they had unleashed.

“We didn’t ever think we were podcast worthy,” Hamm said. “We just rambled on there for an hour, and they thought we were funny.”

Hamm and Simpson have been basically inseparable since they came to UMSL, going through their coursework together, starting the United Optometrists Association and teaming up for the winning presentation in the Project Foresight Scholarship contest at the 2017 Optometry’s Meeting.

They have former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty to thank for bringing them together. Well, partly at least.

Hamm was sitting in the outfield stands at Busch Stadium in the summer of 2015 at an event for new UMSL optometry students before the first day of orientation.

Simpson was tardy.

“Rachel always comes late to things and leaves early from things,” Hamm said. “That’s kind of her thing.”

“How dare you!” Simpson said, with a laugh.

“But if you didn’t come late, you wouldn’t have sat by me!” Hamm replied.

Hamm, a Kansas City Royals fan, didn’t have a rooting interest in the game, so she zeroed in on cheering for the player closest to her: Piscotty.

Simpson was all for it.

“Anything to make an event more fun by yelling, I’m so into that,” Simpson said. “Such a good idea. After that, I was like, ‘I really like this person.’”

Each episode of “Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate” adheres to the chatty, bright dynamic of Hamm and Simpson’s friendship.

The two play into each other’s strengths. Simpson has the big ideas, Hamm knows how to execute them. Simpson has a knack for planning out what she’s going to say, Hamm is good at adjusting on the fly.

“Kate will just know the things to say. She’ll just say the right things,” Simpson said.

“I’ve learned it all from you, Rachel,” Hamm added.

They use their platform and their comfort with each other to take on some pretty weighty issues.

Through eight episodes, Hamm and Simpson have devoted discussion to topics such as mental health, sexual harassment in the workplace and the wage gap between male and female optometrists, which was also one of the main driving forces behind them starting the United Optometrists Association at UMSL in 2016.

“We can’t be good optometrists if we don’t talk about the things that are bugging us in our daily lives,” Hamm said. “We’re talking about us, our patients, the world we live in. We’ve got to talk about everyday things, the things that are weighing heavily on people. That’s what is going to make optometry, and every doctor, better. Our patients are going to be better, and then my goal is one day to make the world a better place. That’s my Miss America response.”

It also doesn’t hurt that both are natural performers. Hamm participated in theater and dance in high school, was part of her college marching band and sang the National Anthem in front of about 5,000 people at last year’s Optometry’s Meeting. Simpson, before deciding to go to UMSL, was a stage actress who was in the cast of three national touring shows.

It’s her background roles in TV shows and movies that draw the most interest from her friends, though.

“I was a waiter on ‘Gossip Girl,’ and I was in a hospital scene where I was strapped to a gurney on ‘Law & Order.’ Things like that,” Simpson said. “I was in one of the ‘Spider-Mans.’ I was, like, a street person. I think I looked where he was and said, ‘There goes Spider-Man!’”

Both are in their final year at UMSL, which means they’re on externships that will keep them away from campus for the most part until they graduate next May. Hamm is working at a clinic in Wichita, Kansas, and Simpson’s clinic is at “a mysterious, undisclosed location” with a strict social media policy that precludes her from divulging where it is.

They’ll only be in St. Louis together for about two weeks over the next 11 months. Absence has made the heart grow fonder and podcasting a bit more challenging, especially when you factor in malfunctioning laptop microphones and bad Google Hangout connections.

Even as they move into their professional careers – Hamm in Kansas, Simpson in Pennsylvania – the two plan on continuing to grow the burgeoning “Lunch Date with Rachel and Kate” brand: the podcast and its accompanying Twitter and Instagram accounts (both @RKLunchDate).

They have so many stories left to tell.

“We both believe so wholeheartedly in leaving the world better than we found it,” Hamm said. “That’s why we became friends and continued to stay friends.”

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