Context: Rural community-based medical education (RCBME), in which medical student learning activities take place within a rural community, requires students, clinical teachers, patients, community members and representatives of health and government sectors to actively contribute to the educational process. Therefore, academics seeking to develop RCBME need to understand the rural context, and the views and needs of local stakeholders. Objectives: The aim of this review is to examine stakeholder experiences of RCBME programmes internationally. Methods: This narrative literature review of original research articles published after 1970 utilises Worley's symbiosis model of medical education as an analysis framework. This model proposes that students experience RCBME through their intersection with multiple clinical, social and institutional relationships. This model seeks to provide a framework for considering the intersecting relationships in which RCBME programmes are situated. Results: Thirty RCBME programmes are described in 52 articles, representing a wide range of rural clinical placements. One-year longitudinal integrated clerkships for penultimate-year students in Anglosphere countries were most common. Such RCBME enables students to engage in work-integrated learning in a feasible manner that is acceptable to many rural clinicians and patients. Academic results are not compromised, and a few papers demonstrate quality improvement for rural health services engaged in RCBME. These programmes have delivered some rural medical workforce outcomes to communities and governments. Medical students also provide social capital to rural communities. However, these programmes have significant financial cost and risk student social and educational isolation. Conclusions: Rural community-based medical education programmes are seen as academically acceptable and can facilitate symbiotic relationships among students, rural clinicians, patients and community stakeholders. These relationships can influence students’ clinical competency and professional identity, increase graduates’ interest in rural careers, and potentially improve rural health service stability. Formal prospective stakeholder consultations should be published in the literature.