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).