Recent clinical practice guidelines recommend the creation of an arteriovenous (AV) vascular access (ie, native fistula or synthetic graft) before the start of chronic hemodialysis therapy to prevent the need for complication-prone dialysis catheters. We report on the association of referral to a nephrologist with duration of dialysis-catheter use and type of vascular access used in the first 6 months of hemodialysis therapy. The study population is a representative cohort of 356 patients with questionnaire, laboratory, and medical record data collected as part of the Choices for Healthy Outcomes in Caring for End-Stage Renal Disease Center Study. Patients who reported being seen by a nephrologist at least 1 month before starting hemodialysis therapy (75%) were more likely than those referred later to use an AV access at initiation (39% versus 10%; P < 0.001) and 6 months after starting hemodialysis therapy (74% versus 56%; P < 0.01). Patients referred within 1 month of initiating hemodialysis therapy used a dialysis catheter for a median of 202 days compared with 64, 67, and 19 days for patients referred 1 to 4, 4 to 12, and greater than 12 months before initiating hemodialysis therapy, respectively (P trend < 0.001). Patients referred at least 4 months before initiating hemodialysis therapy were more likely than patients referred later to use an AV fistula, rather than a synthetic graft, as their first AV access (45% versus 31%; P < 0.01). These associations remained after adjustment for age, sex, race, marital status, education, insurance coverage, comorbid disease status, albumin level, body mass index, and underlying renal diagnosis. These data show that late referral to a nephrologist substantially increases the likelihood of dialysis-catheter use at the initiation of hemodialysis therapy and is associated with prolonged catheter use. Regardless of the time of referral, only a minority of patients used an AV access at the initiation of treatment, and greater than 25% had not used an AV access 6 months after initiation. Thus, further efforts to improve both referral patterns and preparation for dialysis after referral are needed.