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Jan Vincents Johannessen

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The Norwegian Radium Hospital's Renaissance Man

Global Academic Programs’ Sister Institution, The Norwegian Cancer Consortium, is comprised of Stavanger University Hospital, The Cancer Registry of Norway and The Norwegian Radium Hospital. In 2005 Radium Hospital merged with Oslo University Hospital (OUH). Due in large part to the developmental efforts and activism of former CEO Jan Vincents Johannessen, M.D., Radium exhibits its pride as a component of the Norwegian Ministry of Health’s government healthcare system but also maintains its unique identity as Norway’s only comprehensive cancer center. Johannessen’s vision for Radium, which will turn 80 next year, is incomplete and evolving.  Although his role at Radium and Oslo University Hospital will shift this year, his dedication to research and cancer care shows no signs of lessening.

Currently, Johannessen acts as the International Director for Oslo University Hospital, and has held that position since the merger of Radium with OUH. As Radium’s CEO from 1983 to 2005, Johannessen expanded research programs and services, and developed the ancillary departments to provide for a patient’s complete health and well-being. On the surface he seems like many other successful leaders; confident, willing to discuss strategy and managements skills and interested in the future of the industry in which he continues to play a pivotal role.  Johannessen, however, is as unique as the cancer hospital to which he has dedicated so much time and effort. Skilled as a painter, he studied under Jakob Weidemann and has paintings exhibited throughout Norway and Europe. He is an adept photographer, musician and glass blower, writing songs for special occasions in Norway such as the Winter Olympics.  Along with Weideman, he published the Art of Living, which became the best-selling non-fiction book in Norway’s history. One of Johannessen’s pet projects, Radium’s Montebello Center, which provides education and information for cancer patients and their families, was nominated by the Norwegian Design Council as “The Design Institution of the Year.” No matter the pursuit Johannessen is determined and, by all accounts, successful.  Although his interests cover a broad spectrum, he has made the most impact when his comprehensive perspective has been brought to bear on improving cancer care and research in Norway.

During his tenure with Radium, Johannessen concentrated on creating programs, which not only cared for the patient, but provided activities and programs to improve their quality of life and self-esteem. His efforts included developing a recreation center, improving the aesthetic environment of the hospital, developing information resources, creating appetizing food for patients and art therapy programs.  Now 70, Johannessen will be forced to relinquish his role as International Director, a result of Norway’s mandatory retirement law, but he will not be stepping out of the spotlight as one of Norway’s preeminent cancer care advocates. Johannessen will maintain his role as The Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation Director, a foundation he started in 1986 to better fund cancer research, primarily at Radium Hospital.

Officially opened on May 21, 1932 The Norwegian Radium Hospital takes its name from the radium used to treat cancer patients and kept in a centralized vault in the hospital, accessible only with the radium nurse’s key. Initially, Radium was an independent institution governed by a board of directors and had no government support. Integral to the hospital’s early development as a cancer center was Radium’s hospital director from 1947 to 1975, Redar Eker, M.D. Eker envisioned a world-class cancer center and as a basic scientist and pathologist believed that could only result from developing three complimentary components: a vigorous research program, a cancer registry and clinical cancer treatment. Eker focused his political acumen on creating relationships with businesses capable of funding research and recruiting researchers outside of Norway where there was a dearth of qualified biochemistry and biophysics investigators.

Now, the hospital like-minded individuals, such as Eker and Johannessen, helped build is in transition. Many of the groundbreaking programs implemented over the first 75 years of Radium’s existence have been discontinued or altered, and the administration now has combined responsibilities with leadership overseeing multiple departments in different parts of the combined Oslo University Hospital. Johannessen does not hesitate to express his desire for Radium to once again be a stand-alone comprehensive cancer center, as it was originally organized. In the mean time, he remains dedicated to fostering productive, translational and basic science research through the Radium foundation in order to continue to improve Radium’s patient care. As with so many of his innovative programs, that support comes from people who share Johannessen’s vision and believe in a common cause, that of making Radium hospital, in whatever form it takes, “More than a hospital.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center