There are two models for search firms, retained and contingency.
A retained firm works for the organization and is paid a flat fee upfront (a retainer) to launch the search and an additional fee when the position is filled. Retained firms usually visit your community to understand your needs and culture, carefully sourcing candidates who will be a good fit for your organization. Retained firms are often the answer for hard-to-recruit for locations or specialties.
A contingency firm works for the candidate and is paid if/when you hire a candidate they found for you. There is an agreement that you sign before they present any candidates stating that you will agree to pay them if you hire anyone they have introduced to you, typically within 12 months of the introduction. You may sign an agreement with as many contingency firms as you like. There is a great variance in candidates sent by different firms – some are pre-screened and some are not. Because their goal is to place candidates, they may well be presenting a candidate to you and to your competition simultaneously. Make sure that a contingency firm presents a name to you before sending a CV in case another firm has also presented the same candidate. Some firms charge a flat fee and some charge a percentage of the hired employee’s first year gross salary. Contingency firm fees hover around $10K for mid-level providers (nurse practitioners and physician assistants) and around $20K for physicians.
Some recruiters have the reputation of being out for themselves and not serving their clients (candidates and organizations), but instead only serving themselves. The professional organization for physician recruiting organizations is the National Association of Physician Recruiters (NAPR) which has a Code of Ethics that members must adhere to. You can research member firms here.
On the NAPR website, it notes a collaboration with MGMA:
MGMA, in collaboration with NAPR, surveys its membership to obtain the most recent physician starting salary placement compensation data. This is the fourth year of data collection and the third year of stand-alone publication for the Physician Placement Starting Salary Survey report. The report provides accurate data on the range of physician placements to assist recruiters and health care organizations in benchmarking salaries and other employment terms. The report also allows users to compare and learn more about the factors affecting first-year placement compensation. All survey participants receive a complimentary copy of the Physician Placement Starting Salary Survey