Neurosurgery at Ullevål

Organized neurosurgical activity started at Ullevål University Hospital in the 1950s when Kristian Kristiansen returned from Montreal, where he had received his education from the renowned brain surgeon Wilder Penfield. Kristiansen, who is known for his work on epilepsy and head trauma, later became professor of neurosurgery at the University of Oslo. He had a number of international offices and was for instance secretary of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies.

In 1978 he was succeeded by Ragnar Nesbakken. Nesbakken’s field of expertise was tumor, especially tumors emanating from the pituitary gland. He also made considerable contributions in other areas, e.g. in formulating and passing a modern law governing organ transplantation. Furthermore he was a revered lecturer. Nesbakken died young and was succeeded by Bjørn Magnæs, a neurosurgeon of his own generation.

Bjørn Magnæs produced a long series of well known scientific papers on intra-cranial pressure, cerebral blood flow, and on the physiology and diseases of the spinal channel. He was known as a superb neurosurgeon of his time.

In 2000, Sissel Reinlie took over after Magnæs as chairman. Two professorships were established. Firstly, Eirik Helseth was appointed professor in 2003. Secondly, Iver Arne Langmoen returned to his native country in 2005. Prior to this he was professor and chairman at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.

The department annually performs about 2000 major surgical procedures.

The birth of neurosurgery as a speciality in Norway

Vilhelm Magnus

Neurosurgery in Norway started with Vilhelm Magnus (1871-1929). He was born by Norwegian parents in Minnesota, but the family moved back to Norway due to his mother’s ill health when he was still a child. After finishing high school in Bergen he studied medicine in Oslo at the same time as Roald Amundsen until the latter left the university in order to fully concentrate on his explorations.

Following graduation, Magnus travelled widely in Europe to study neurology, pathology and physiology. Significantly, he as physiologist was first to describe the function of the corpus luteum.

After working with Victor Horsley, who became a close friend, he became dedicated to brain surgery and during the next 26 years (1903-29) he instituted neurological surgery as a special field in Norway. Already by 1920 his surgical mortality for brain tumor surgery was 8.1 % which unusual at this time.


H Fodstad et al: Vilhelm Magnus pioneer neurosurgeon.  J Neurosurg 73:317-330, 1990

Vik-Mo E, Reinlie S, Helseth E, Langmoen IA: Neurosurgery in Oslo.  World Neurosurg. (2010) 74, 4/5:402-406.

Arne Torkildsen

Following Vilhelm Magnus, neurosurgical procedures were for whike performed by professor Ragnvald Ingebrigtsen (1882-1975). Arne Torkildsen's (b. 1899) interest in neurosurgery started at the time of Magnus' death in 1929. Torkildsen trained abroad, first 1 year at the National Hospital in London and then 4 years with Wilder Penfield in Montreal as one of his first four fellows. His research activities included the anatomy of the ventricles and intracranial tumors. Torkildsen returned to Oslo in 1935 and became chief of a separate section for neurosurgery in 1940. In Oslo, he invented what is known as the Torkildsen operation for noncommunicating hydrocephalus (a shunt from the lateral ventricle to the cisterna magna). He published the first four cases in 1939, and the methods were soon adopted in major neurosurgical departments (29, 30). Torkildsen was considered a very good surgeon, and some of the children he operated on during the 1940s for intracranial tumors are still alive and well functioning.
Vik-Mo E, Reinlie S, Helseth E, Langmoen IA: Neurosurgery in Oslo.  World Neurosurg. (2010) 74, 4/5:402-406.

Following the work of these pioneers, departments of neurosurgery were established in both teaching hospitals in Oslo (Ullevål and Rikshospitalet) under the leadership of professor Kristian Kristiansen (b. 1907) and professor Tormod Hauge (b. 1909). Later on departments were established in Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø (for the latter see Ingebrigtsen T, Romner B, Solberg T, Nygaard ØP. History of the northernmost neurosurgical department in the world. Neurosurgery. 2003;53:731-40).

Neurosurgery in Tromsø

The city of Tromsø - “the Gateway to the Arctic” - were used by the great polar explorers Nansen, Amundsen, Nordenskiöld, and Andree as a last station before exploring the arctic.

The Norwegian government established a university here in temporary facilities in 1972. Many young people from the universities in southern Norway moved north to participate in this enterprise and soon a new, innovative and powerful academic institution was in full function.

During the first years, neurosurgery was taught by neurologists and surgeons. In 1985, Alf Tysvær (1937– 2001) was recruited as a neurosurgeon. The following year Jens Hugo Trumpy, an experienced neurosurgeon at Ullevål Hospital in Oslo and then at the age of 60 years, joined the team. A neurosurgical department was established and Trumpy was offered a permanent position as head of the department. Somewhat later he also became professor of neurosurgery at the University of Tromsø.

Trumpy remained as the only board-certified neurosurgeon for some time, but he had a superb capacity to recruit young talents and well before he retired at the age of 72 (in 1998) department positions were filled by young and competent board certified neurosurgeons.

Tromsø, located at 69.7° and 300 km north of the Arctic Circle has the northernmost university and neurosurgical department in the world. The only other arctic department is in Murmansk, Russia (69.0° N - the departments in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Anchorage, Alaska, are located at 64.1° and 61.2°N, respectively).

Following Trumpy, Tor Ingebrigtsen – former resident in the department – took over as chairman and professor. When Ingebrigtsen became president of the university hospital, Roar Kloster followed him as chairman.

The neurosurgical department in Tromsø has proven to give high-quality neurosurgical service to the population of Nothern Norway and and has provided a large number of academic publications to the international neurosurgical literature.