Mortality risk among hemodialysis (HD) patients may be highest soon after initiation of HD. A period of elevated mortality risk was identified among US incident HD patients, and which patient characteristics predict death during this period and throughout the first year was examined using data from the Dialysis Outcomes and Practice Patterns Study (DOPPS; 1996 through 2004). A retrospective cohort study design was used to identify mortality risk factors. All patient information was collected at enrollment. Life-table analyses and discrete logistic regression were used to identify a period of elevated mortality risk. Cox regression was used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (HR) measuring associations between patient characteristics and mortality and to examine whether these associations changed during the first year of HD. Among 4802 incident patients, risk for death was elevated during the first 120 d compared with 121 to 365 d (27.5 versus 21.9 deaths per 100 person-years; P = 0.002). Cause-specific mortality rates were higher in the first 120 d than in the subsequent 121 to 365 d for nearly all causes, with the greatest difference being for cardiovascular-related deaths. In addition, 20% of all deaths in the first 120 d occurred subsequent to withdrawal from dialysis. Most covariates were found to have consistent effects during the first year of HD: Older age, catheter vascular access, albumin <3.5, phosphorus <3.5, cancer, and congestive heart failure all were associated with elevated mortality. Pre-ESRD nephrology care was associated with a significantly lower risk for death before 120 d (HR 0.65; 95% confidence interval 0.51 to 0.83) but not in the subsequent 121- to 365-d period (HR 1.03; 95% confidence interval 0.83 to 1.27). This care was related to approximately 50% lower rates of both cardiac deaths and withdrawal from dialysis during the first 120 d. Mortality risk was highest in the first 120 d after HD initiation. Inadequate predialysis nephrology care was strongly associated with mortality during this period, highlighting the potential benefits of contact with a nephrologist at least 1 mo before HD initiation.