Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust medical director and former acting chief executive Hugo Mascie-Taylor tops the shortlist for the new NHS medical director, HSJ understands.
Dr Mascie-Taylor has held the post of medical director at the trust since 1998 and last year became acting chief executive before a permanent appointment was made.
The government's national adviser on surgery Professor Sir Ara Darzi is also believed to be among the contenders for the post.
HSJ understands that Imperial College faculty of medicine principal Professor Stephen Smith has been linked with the new job. Other possible candidates include Hammersmith Hospitals trust medical director Professor Rory Shaw and the national director for primary care Dr David Colin-Thome, who recently retired as a GP.
Dr Mascie-Taylor told HSJ the job was 'potentially very exciting' but said he did not yet know enough about it and would be having talks with NHS chief executive David Nicholson and chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson before deciding whether to apply for the position.
'It is an important development and potentially an exciting job and anyone who has done the type of work that I have would be interested in it,' he added.
The new medical director role is part of a new-look Department of Health top team, designed to concentrate on clinical engagement. According to Mr Nicholson, it will lead the work of the national clinical directors, currently the job of chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson.
Although Sir Liam will be included in the DoH's new top team, he will focus on public health and health protection as the government's 'senior medical adviser'.
In a letter to NHS chief executives last week, Mr Nicholson said the role of the new medical director would be to 'champion clinical engagement throughout the service'.
He added: 'The post will also be charged with improving safety and quality in the NHS.'
He said the DoH would move as quickly as possible to identify the best candidate through an open recruitment process.
Of the other likely candidates, Professor Shaw would not confirm whether he was applying for the job, although he said he knew 'very little about it'.
Professor Smith also said he had not been approached but added that he thought the creation of the position was a 'sensible move'.
Sir Ara and Dr Colin-Thome were unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, the DoH has confirmed the appointment of NHS South Central chief executive Mark Britnell as director general for commissioning and system management, and NHS North East chief executive David Flory will take on the DoH's third new post of director general of finance.
The new commissioning and service development role replaces the existing DoH commissioning post, as well as the provider development role and aspects of the policy and strategy role.. However, the DoH will retain a strategy post, to which it has yet to appoint anyone.
The DoH has also appointed deputy chief medical officer Michael Martin to the new post of director of medical education. Mr Nicholson said medical education was 'fundamental to patients receiving better care'.. He added that it also had to be a 'key part of the NHS engaging with clinicians about things that matter'.
DoH standards and quality director Bill Kirkup will continue to manage existing clinical programmes until they transfer to the new medical director, after which he will become associate chief medical officer and chief of staff.
In this role, Mr Kirkup's principal duties will be to provide expert support and advice to Sir Liam.