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Open Access Open Badges Technical Note

Structural equation modeling in medical research: a primer

Tanya N Beran* and Claudio Violato

Author Affiliations

Medical Education and Research Unit Faculty of Medicine University of Calgary 3330 Hospital Dr. N.W. Calgary, AB T2N 4N1, Canada

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:267  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-267

Published: 22 October 2010



Structural equation modeling (SEM) is a set of statistical techniques used to measure and analyze the relationships of observed and latent variables. Similar but more powerful than regression analyses, it examines linear causal relationships among variables, while simultaneously accounting for measurement error. The purpose of the present paper is to explicate SEM to medical and health sciences researchers and exemplify their application.


To facilitate its use we provide a series of steps for applying SEM to research problems. We then present three examples of how SEM has been utilized in medical and health sciences research.


When many considerations are given to research planning, SEM can provide a new perspective on analyzing data and potential for advancing research in medical and health sciences.