Kenan Thompson Is Working to Increase Diversity in the Veterinary Field by Supporting Students

SNL star Kenan Thompson is working with Banfield Pet Hospital to help encourage young animal lovers to pursue careers in veterinary medicine in hopes of strengthening the field

Photo: Banfield Pet Hospital

Kenan Thompson is taking his latest role to a new level.

The 43-year-old Saturday Night Live star is playing a veterinarian in the upcoming Clifford the Big Red Dog movie — premiering Nov. 10 — and is channeling this fictional character into a real-life push to expand the veterinary field.

Based on Norman Bridwell's beloved children's book series, the Clifford live-action adaptation tells the tale of the special bond between a girl and a huge dog she receives as a puppy as a gift from an animal rescuer. In the film, Thompson plays a Banfield veterinarian who takes care of the oversized canine.

After filming the movie, the actor and comedian spoke to PEOPLE about teaming up with Banfield Pet Hospital — which has over 1,000 locations across the country — to learn more about veterinary medicine and the company's mission to add diversity to the field.

Banfield Pet Hospital

"There's a serious gap in the diversity range, and Banfield is trying to spread that word, but also trying to get people involved," Thompson says. "You know, that perked up my ears immediately. The fact that they're actually taking steps to kind of help people get through their education to get down that road is pretty amazing to me. So, whatever I can do to kind of help."

According to Banfield researchers, about 75 million pets in the U.S. may not have access to the veterinary care they need by 2030 due, in part, to a critical shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. The organization also notes that nearly 90% of veterinarians identify as white.

Banfield Pet Hospital

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The Kenan actor made a surprise appearance at an event hosted by Banfield and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to speak to high school students from underrepresented communities in Whittier, California, and encourage them to pursue careers in veterinary medicine.

Thompson says he was surprised at how receptive the students were to the initiative, joking, "I didn't know if I was cool enough still to kind of hold a young high school audience's attention."

"The kids were very responsive, and they had a full carnival day with a petting zoo and stuff like that, to kind of just reignite that love for pets that we all probably had when we were little," he adds.

Thompson was also able to introduce the organization's new "NextVet" initiative, which gives high school students the opportunity for paid internships that work to "diversify and strengthen the talent pipeline" for the veterinary field.

The internships are part of the hospital's $10 million commitment toward supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and strengthening educational pathways for current and future veterinary professionals. Thompson says since partnering with Banfield, he's been impressed with the organization's hands-on approach.

"They really care about what they do. And it's showing in the fact that they're taking the initiative to bring people into the field," he tells PEOPLE. "They could just, you know, keep their hospitals running and keep things the way they are, but they want to spread wings and be more inclusive, and I'm all about that."

Banfield Pet Hospital

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Banfield's "NextVet" program opens its application process on Oct. 27 for students 16+ who reside in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland-Vancouver, and Washington D.C.

Thompson's Clifford the Big Red Dog bounds into theaters and onto Paramount+ on Nov. 10.

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