Change Agent

Guam native Esther Lam, VG19, drafted bill protecting animal welfare in her homeland
A smiling woman with dark long hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing eyeglasses and a stethoscope cradles a multi-colored cat.
Esther Lam, VG19, is pursuing a D.V.M. at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo: Dr. Raye Taylor

At the age of six, Esther Lam, VG19 (she/her) loved to read books with her mother. One day she brought home a book about snakes and was excited to explore it, until her mom refused … due to a strong fear of the slithery reptiles. 

“I wondered why she could be so scared of these really cool animals and was slightly confused as to why anyone could dislike any animal so much,” Lam recalls. That moment ignited her love of animals. “I wanted to understand them more while trying to help others understand them as well.” Her journey toward veterinary medicine began.  

After earning a B.A. in biology and English from Amherst College, Lam completed a M.S. in Animals and Public Policy from Cummings School, where Lam aimed to gain a better understanding of how to get involved in policy work. “While pursuing veterinary medicine is my goal, I believe veterinarians should be aware of and involved in public policies, especially those that involve animals,” she says.

Before pursuing veterinary school, Lam completed the prerequisite courses and gained a variety of veterinary and animal-related experiences, while allowing herself to explore other fields. She served as a math tutor, shadowed and worked with medical doctors to explore human medicine, and tried cancer research. 

“By allowing myself to explore other professions, I proved to myself that my passion continued to lie in veterinary medicine, as those animal-related experiences brought me joy and motivation to know and learn more,” she contends. 

On campus Lam was mentored by Drs. Emily McCobb and David Lee-Parritz. “In addition to advising me, Dr. McCobb reached out to me about different veterinary experiences that helped me grow as a pre-veterinary student,” Lam explains. “She provided consistent encouragement and support and encouragement whenever I needed it.

“Dr. Lee-Parritz allowed me to work with him and his technicians in laboratory animal medicine outside of class time, providing first-hand experience, as well as valuable advice about veterinary school.”

In addition to coursework, Lam soaked up all she could from her classmates and professors. “Throughout my time at Cummings School, learning and hearing about others' experiences gave me greater insight into various aspects surrounding different topics, as I continued growing to understand others,” she shares.

Lam proved that a Cummings School education had prepared her well for policy work in that area of veterinary medicine by co-drafting a bill for Guam to make changes and update animal cruelty laws. She worked with Cyrus Luhr, senior policy analyst in the Office of Guam Senator Sabina Perez. After joining the senator’s office as a junior policy analyst, Lam conducted research, spoke with constituents, and co-authored the bill, titled the Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) Act. 

Senator Perez was credited as author of the PAWS Act, which was unanimously passed by the Guam legislature in December 2020, and signed into law in January 2021. “I never imagined myself doing any policy work, so it felt wonderful to be a part of such a significant contribution to animal welfare in Guam,” she beams.

Currently working toward a D.V.M. at the University of Minnesota, Lam hopes to participate in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s annual legislative fly-ins over the next couple of years. These events provide hands-on advocacy experience to veterinarians and veterinary students, where participants receive in-depth briefings about top policy issues affecting veterinary medicine and meet with their members of Congress to advocate on those issues. 

“I look forward to being more involved in animals and public policy work after I graduate,” she says, hoping to join the military, but if that doesn’t work out, she has other options.

“I plan to go into clinical practice in emergency and/or community medicine for a few years,” wishing to gain some experience before deciding on a possible specialization and where to settle … “either the East or West Coast.”

Advocate and Make a Difference in the World

Cummings School’s M.S. in Animals and Public Policy examines the changing roles of animals in our society. Students learn to effectively evaluate research and policy arguments preparing them for careers in animal protection agencies, conservation initiatives, and environmental advocacy organizations.

Learn More and Apply