OBJECTIVES As the medical profession continues to change, so do the educational methods by which medical students are taught. Various authors have acknowledged the need for alternative teaching and learning strategies that will enable medical students to retain vast amounts of information, integrate critical thinking skills and solve a range of complex clinical problems. Previous research has indicated that concept maps may be one such teaching and learning strategy. This article aims to: (i) review the current research on concept maps as a potential pedagogical approach to medical student learning, and (ii) discuss implications for medical student teaching and learning, as well as directions for future research. METHODS The literature included in this review was obtained by searching library databases including ACADEMIC SEARCH, ERIC, EBSCOHost, PsychINFO, PsychARTICLES, PubMed/MEDLINE, CINAHL and EMBASE. This literature review is a summary of both conceptual and empirically published literature on the uses of concept mapping in medical education. RESULTS The 35 studies reviewed here indicate that concept maps function in four main ways: (i) by promoting meaningful learning; (ii) by providing an additional resource for learning; (iii) by enabling instructors to provide feedback to students, and (iv) by conducting assessment of learning and performance. CONCLUSIONS This review provides ideas for medical school faculty staff on the use of concept maps in teaching and learning. Strategies such as fostering critical thinking and clinical reasoning, incorporating concept mapping within problem-based learning, and using concept mapping in group and collaborative learning are identified. New developments in medical education include the use of serial concept maps, concept maps as a methodology to assist learners with lower cognitive competence, and the combination of group concept maps with structured feedback.